Oliver Wendell Holmes

Here you will find the Long Poem A Rhymed Lesson (Urania) of poet Oliver Wendell Holmes

A Rhymed Lesson (Urania)

Yes, dear Enchantress,â??­wandering far and long,
In realms unperfumed by the breath of song,
Where flowers ill-flavored shed their sweets around,
And bitterest roots invade the ungenial ground,
Whose gems are crystals from the Epsom mine,
Whose vineyards flow with antimonial wine,
Whose gates admit no mirthful feature in,
Save one gaunt mocker, the Sardonic grin,
Whose pangs are real, not the woes of rhyme
That blue-eyed misses warble out of time;â??­
Truant, not recreant to thy sacred claim,
Older by reckoning, but in heart the same,
Freed for a moment from the chains of toil,
I tread once more thy consecrated soil;
Here at thy feet my old allegiance own,
Thy subject still, and loyal to thy throne!

My dazzled glance explores the crowded hall;
Alas, how vain to hope the smiles of all! 
I know my audience. All the gay and young
Love the light antics of a playful tongue;
And these, remembering some expansive line
My lips let loose among the nuts and wine,
Are all impatience till the opening pun
Proclaims the witty shamfight is begun. 
Two fifths at least, if not the total half,
Have come infuriate for an earthquake laugh;
I know full well what alderman has tied
His red bandanna tight about his side;
I see the mother, who, aware that boys
Perform their laughter with superfluous noise,
Beside her kerchief brought an extra one
To stop the explosions of her bursting son;
I know a tailor, once a friend of mine,
Expects great doings in the button line,â??­
For mirthâ??s concussions rip the outward case,
And plant the stitches in a tenderer place. 
I know my audience,â??­these shall have their due;
A smile awaits them ere my song is through!

I know myself. Not servile for applause,
My Muse permits no deprecating clause;
Modest or vain, she will not be denied
One bold confession due to honest pride;
And well she knows the drooping veil of song
Shall save her boldness from the cavillerâ??s wrong. 
Her sweeter voice the Heavenly Maid imparts
To tell the secrets of our aching hearts
For this, a suppliant, captive, prostrate, bound,
She kneels imploring at the feet of sound;
For this, convulsed in thoughtâ??s maternal pains,
She loads her arms with rhymeâ??s resounding chains;
Faint though the music of her fetters be,
It lends one charm,â??­her lips are ever free!

Think not I come, in manhoodâ??s fiery noon,
To steal his laurels from the stage buffoon;
His sword of lath the harlequin may wield;
Behold the star upon my lifted shield
Though the just critic pass my humble name,
And sweeter lips have drained the cup of fame,
While my gay stanza pleased the banquetâ??s lords,
The soul within was tuned to deeper chords! 
Say, shall my arms, in other conflicts taught
To swing aloft the ponderous mace of thought,
Lift, in obedience to a school-girlâ??s law,
Mirthâ??s tinsel wand or laughterâ??s tickling straw? 
Say, shall I wound with satireâ??s rankling spear
The pure, warm hearts that bid me welcome here? 
No! while I wander through the land of dreams,
To strive with great and play with trifling themes,
Let some kind meaning fill the varied line. 
You have your judgment; will you trust to mine?
Between two breaths what crowded mysteries lie,â??­
The first short gasp, the last and long-drawn sigh! 
Like phantoms painted on the magic slide,
Forth from the darkness of the past we glide,
As living shadows for a moment seen
In airy pageant on the eternal screen,
Traced by a ray from one unchanging flame,
Then seek the dust and stillness whence we came.

But whence and why, our trembling souls inquire,
Caught these dim visions their awakening fire? 
Oh, who forgets when first the piercing thought
Through childhoodâ??s musings found its way unsought? 
I am;â??­I live. The mystery and the fear
When the dread question, what has brought me here? 
Burst through lifeâ??s twilight, as before the sun
Roll the deep thunders of the morning gun!

Are angel faces, silent and serene,
Bent on the conflicts of this little scene,
Whose dream-like efforts, whose unreal strife,
Are but the preludes to a larger life?

Or does lifeâ??s summer see the end of all,
These leaves of being mouldering as they fall,
As the old poet vaguely used to deem,
As WESLEY questioned in his youthful dream? 
Oh, could such mockery reach our souls indeed,
Give back the Pharaohsâ?? or the Athenianâ??s creed;
Better than this a Heaven of manâ??s device,â??­
The Indianâ??s sports, the Moslemâ??s paradise!

Or is our beingâ??s only end and aim
To add new glories to our Makerâ??s name,
As the poor insect, shrivelling in the blaze,
Lends a faint sparkle to its streaming rays? 
Does earth send upward to the Eternalâ??s