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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Strong Heroic Line

By Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)

[From the Poem delivered at a Dinner given to Dr. Holmes by the Medical Profession of New York City, 12 April, 1883.]

FRIENDS of the Muse, to you of right belong

The first staid footsteps of my square-toed song;

Full well I know the strong heroic line

Has lost its fashion since I made it mine;

But there are tricks old singers will not learn,

And this grave measure still must serve my turn.

So the old bird resumes the self-same note

His first young summer wakened in his throat:

The self-same tune the old canary sings,

And all unchanged the bobolink’s carol rings;

When the tired songsters of the day are still

The thrush repeats his long-remembered trill;

Age alters not the crow’s persistent caw,

The Yankee’s “Haow,” the stammering Briton’s “Haw”;

And so the hand that takes the lyre for you

Plays the old tune on strings that once were new.

Nor let the rhymester of the hour deride

The straight-backed measure with its stately stride:

It gave the mighty voice of Dryden scope;

It sheathed the steel-bright epigrams of Pope;

In Goldsmith’s verse it learned a sweeter strain;

Byron and Campbell wore its clanking chain;

I smile to listen while the critic’s scorn

Flouts the proud purple kings have nobly worn;

Bid each new rhymer try his dainty skill

And mould his frozen phrases as he will;—

We thank the artist for his neat device;

The shape is pleasing, though the stuff is ice.

Fashions will change—the new costume allures,

Unfading still the better type endures;

While the slashed doublet of the cavalier

Gave the old knight the pomp of chanticleer,

Our last-hatched dandy with his glass and stick

Recalls the semblance of a new-born chick;

(To match the model he is aiming at

He ought to wear an egg-shell for a hat);

Which of these objects would a painter choose,

And which Velasquez or Van Dyke refuse?