To Holmes on his Seventy-Fifth Birthday
Dear Wendell, why need count the years
Since first your genius made me thrill,
If what moved then to smiles or tears,
Or both contending, move me still?
What has the Calendar to do
With poets? What Time's fruitless tooth
With gay immortals such as you
Whose years but emphasize your youth?
One air gave both their lease of breath;
The same paths lured our boyish feet;
One earth will hold us safe in death
With dust of saints and scholars sweet.
Our legends from one source were drawn,
I scarce distinguish yours from mine,
And don't we make the Gentiles yawn
With "You remembers?" o'er our wine!
If I, with too senescent air,
Invade your elder memory's pale,
You snub me with a pitying "Where
Were you in the September Gale?"
Both stared entranced at Lafayette,
Saw Jackson dubbed with LL. D.
What Cambridge saw not strikes us yet
As scarcely worth one's while to see.
Ten years my senior, when my name
In Harvard's entrance-book was writ,
Her halls still echoed with the fame
Of you, her poet and her wit.
'Tis fifty years from then to now:
But your Last Leaf renews its green,
Though, for the laurels on your brow
(So thick they crowd), 'tis hardly seen.
The oriole's fledglings fifty times
Have flown from our familiar elms;
As many poets with their rhymes
Oblivion's darkling dust o'erwhelms.
The birds are hushed, the poets gone
Where no harsh critic's lash can reach,
And still your winged brood sing on
To all who love our English speech.
Nay, let the foolish records be
That make believe you're seventy-five:
You're the old Wendell still to me,—
And that's the youngest man alive.
The gray-blue eyes, I see them still,
The gallant front with brown o'erhung,
The shape alert, the wit at will,
The phrase that stuck, but never stung.
You keep your youth as you Scotch firs,
Whose gaunt line my horizon hems,
Though twilight all the lowland blurs,
Hold sunset in their ruddy stems.
You with the elders? Yes, 'tis true,
But in no sadly literal sense,
With elders and coevals too,
Whose verb admits no preterite tense.
Master alike in speech and song
Of fame's great antiseptic — Style,
You with the classic few belong
Who tempered wisdom with a smile.
Outlive us all! Who else like you
Could sift the seedcorn from our chaff,
And make us with the pen we knew
Deathless at least in epitaph?