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The sky is ruddy in the east,
The earth is gray below,

And, spectral in the river-mist,
The ship's white timbers show.

5 Then let the sounds of measured stroke

And grating saw begin;

The broad-axe to the gnarléd oak,
The mallet to the pin

Hark!—roars the bellows, blast on blast,
10 The sooty Smithy jars,
And fire-sparks, rising far and fast,
Are fading with the stars.
All day for us the smith shall stand
Beside that flashing forge;
15 All day for us his heavy hand
The groaning anvil Scourge.

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Why lingers on these dusty rocks
The young bride of the sea?
Look! how she moves adown the grooves,
In graceful beauty now !
55 How lowly on the breast she loves
Sinks down her virgin prow !

God bless her l wheresoe'er the breeze
Her snowy wing shall fan,

Aside the frozen Hebrides,

60 Or sultry Hindostan!

Where'er, in mart or on the main,
With peaceful flag unfurled,

She helps to wind the silken chain
Of commerce round the world !

65 Be hers the Prairie's golden grain,
The Desert's golden sand,
The clustered fruits of sunny Spain,
The spice of Morning-land
Her pathway on the open main
70 May blessings follow free,
And glad hearts welcome back again
Her white sails from the seal

HELPS TO STUDY
Notes and Questions

What time of day is indicated in
the first and second stanzas?
What tells you this?
How does the smith “scourge”
the anvil?
What effect does the poet fancy
this has upon the anvil?
Which of these two thoughts do
you suppose first occurred to the
poet?
What are the “island barges”?
What is a “century-circled oak”?

Did you ever see one? What is Whittier's idea of a shipbuilder’s work? In what way would a ‘‘yawning seam” tempt the sea? What is the ‘‘painted shell”? How is a ship launched? What other poem have you read which describes the launching of a ship? Who wrote it? Which poem do you like better? Why?

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Oliver Wendell Holmes’s birth year, 1809, was made memorable on both sides of the Atlantic by the births of Lincoln, Tennyson, Poe, and Gladstone. His father, of colonial descent, was a Congregational minister at Cambridge. On his mother's side—the Wendells or Wondels—he was of Dutch descent.

Holmes was brought up very simply in the old gambrel-roofed house, half parsonage and half farm house. He read the “New England Primer,” “Pilgrim’s Progress” and such poems as were to be found in the early school books. Later he was a student at Harvard, a member of the class of 1829, which, while not to be compared for literary genius with the Bowdoin class of 1825, was one of Harvard’s most famous classes. Not long after his graduation, the class of 1829 began to hold annual dinners and Holmes was regularly called upon to furnish an ode for the occasion. It was on the thirtieth anniversary that he wrote and recited “The Boys.” . In 1889, at the sixtieth anniversary, he wrote the last class poem, “After the Curfew.”

It was in the first year after his graduation that his verses went

into type and then he says he had his first attack of “lead poisoning.” After leaving Harvard he studied law for a while and then turned to medicine and surgery, spending two years in study in Paris. It is a singular coincidence and shows his double work in life, that in 1836 when he published his first volume of poems he also took his degree as doctor of medicine. As a physician he was always deeply interested in the problems of heredity and he wrote several novels in which inherited characteristics play an important part.

It was in September, 1830, that Holmes chanced to read in a newspaper of the proposal of the Navy Department to dismantle the frigate Constitution, which had done such good service in 1812 but which was then lying, old and unseaworthy, in the navy yard at Charleston. He wrote at once with a lead pencil on a scrap of paper the stirring verses “Old Ironsides” and sent them to the Boston Daily Advertiser, from which they were copied in all the papers of the country. The frigate was converted into a schoolship, and Oliver Wendell Holmes became known as a poet.

On every public occasion which could be enlivened or dignified by a special poem, Dr. Holmes was called upon. Such a position is a trying one and one to which only men with a sense of humor are often called. The doctor rarely refused to respond; so that nearly one-half of his verse is of this occasional character. Much of his verse is in lighter vein, but of the serious, surest in their hold upon his readers are “The Last Leaf” and “The Chambered Nautilus.” But Holmes, while he had a genuine gift of song, was no persistent singer like Longfellow or Whittier, and so he reached almost the age of fifty without feeling that the reading public had any special interest in him. Then in 1857, when the Atlantic Monthly was established, and Lowell took the editorship only on condition that Holmes would be a contributor, he wrote the “Autocrat of the Breakfast Table.” In this role of talker, comfortable, brilliant, and witty, Holmes made friends wherever the Autocrat was read.

Holmes's intellect remained bright and he continued an active worker into extreme old age. In 1890 he published his last volume, “Over the Teacups.” As one by one this brilliant company of New England writers left the world, Holmes sang to each a farewell song. When his own time came he was really “The Last Leaf upon the Tree.” The end came peacefully as he was talking to his son, October 7, 1894.

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