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unions of his class. Study, as an example of this side of his genius, one written thirty years after his graduation, and called
“THE BOYS” 1
Has there any old fellow got mixed with the boys ?
Old Time is a liar! We're twenty to-night! 5 We're twenty ! We're twenty! Who says we are more ?
He's tipsy, — young jackanapes ! - show him the door!
Gray temples at twenty ? " Yes! white if we please; Where the snowflakes fall thickest there's nothing can
Was it snowing I spoke of ? Excuse the mistake !
1 Copyright, 1861, Houghton, Mifflin & Co. Boston.
And there's a nice youngster of excellent pith,
You hear that boy laughing? – You think he's all fun;
Yes, we're boys, — always playing with tongue or with pen;
Then here's to our boyhood, its gold and its gray!
Thirty years after graduation most men are about fifty years of age, and so are beginning to feel as if they might some day be old. Holmes makes this lurking uneasiness the theme of the lyric, gayly denies that they are any older than when they graduated, and so secures the mingling of fun and grave suggestion in which he excels. The measure is anapestic, the swinging effect of which is well adapted to a convivial song. There are several allusions to his classmates, some of whom are men not unknown to fame. The “ Reverend” of line 20 is probably Rev. James Freeman Clarke, a distinguished Boston minister, and a very intimate friend of Dr. Holmes. "That boy with the grave mathematical look,” line 21, is Professor Benjamin Peirce, of Harvard, for a long time the most distinguished mathematician in America. The boy "with the three-decker brain,” line 25, is Benjamin R. Curtis, who had been a justice of the United States Supreme Court; but in 1857, two years before the writing of this poem, had resigned, and gone into private practice of the law. The “nice youngster of excellent pith,” line 29, will probably be recognized at once as Rev. S. F. Smith, the author of "My Country, 'tis of thee."
Probably if any of Holmes' poems endures to the immortality of the great, it will be “The Chambered Nautilus." Eternal, precious truth, expressed in faultless form, this little lyric sings itself into the heart.
THE CHAMBERED NAUTILUS 1
This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main,
The venturous bark that Alings
And coral reefs lie bare,
Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl ;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Before thee lies revealed, -
1 Copyright, 1861, Houghton, Mifflin & Co. Boston.
Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
Built up its idle door,
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn !
While on mine ear it rings,
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll !
Leave thy low-vaulted past !
Till thou at length art free,
Study this poem as an example of the meditative nature lyric. It is written with no apparent reference to any idea of its being sung. It is not a song in that sense. But it has the lyrical quality of emotion, in a quiet, peaceful, meditative form, somewhat after the manner of Wordsworth. It has also very clearly the lyrical quality of expressing the poet's personality. We are interested in what the writer thinks and feels about the shell, rather than in the shell itself. The thought and feeling are those of the scholar and modern scientific thinker, rather than of the simple observer of nature. The poet is first reminded of the classical fables about the nautilus. Then his thought passes to the facts of the life of the shellfish, and beautifully personifying them, he proceeds to draw his lesson, making the observed facts of the animal's life the basis of a beautiful and suggestive analogy. The form of the lyric is interesting, especially for its close connection with the progress of the thought. Notice the structure of the stanzas. The measure is iambic, with lines of varied length. First a pentameter line, then two trimeters, two pentameters, a trimeter, and an alexandrine at the end. Each of the five stanzas is devoted to a clearly defined stage of the thought: the fabled fancies about the nautilus, the shell as it lies before the poet, the life that once occupied the now empty shell, the fact that it brings us a message, and the message that it brings. A closer study will show us that each line carries a complete thought, and that the longer and shorter lines are closely adapted to the thought they have to express. Especially noteworthy is the way in which the thought of each stanza culminates to its fullest expression in the long, sonorous alexandrine line with which it closes. The familiar expedients of alliteration and assonance are used in this poem, but not in such a way as to be conspicuous. Notice especially lines 4, II, 19. The great beauty of the poem is in the pure, ennobling thought it contains, and the impression it leaves upon the spirit of the reader. The interest of the form