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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

New England: Andover, Mass.

The School-boy

By Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)

MY cheek was bare of adolescent down

When first I sought the Academic town:

Slow rolls the coach along the dusty road,

Big with its filial and parental load;

The frequent hills, the lonely woods are past,

The school-boy’s chosen home is reached at last.

I see it now, the same unchanging spot,

The swinging gate, the little garden-plot,

The narrow yard, the rock that made its floor,

The flat, pale house, the knocker-garnished door,

The small, trim parlor, neat, decorous, chill,

The strange, new faces, kind, but grave and still;

Two, creased with age,—or what I then called age,—

Life’s volume open at its fiftieth page;

One a shy maiden’s, pallid, placid, sweet

As the first snow-drop which the sunbeams greet;

One the last nursling’s; slight she was, and fair,

Her smooth white forehead warmed with auburn hair.


Brave, but with effort, had the school-boy come

To the cold comfort of a stranger’s home;

How like a dagger to my sinking heart

Came the dry summons, “It is time to part;

“Good-by!” “Goo-ood-by!” one fond maternal kiss.

Homesick as death! Was ever pang like this?

Too young as yet with willing feet to stray

From the tame fireside, glad to get away,—

Too old to let my watery grief appear,—

And what so bitter as a swallowed tear!


The morning came; I reached the classic hall;

A clock-face eyed me, staring from the wall;

Beneath its hands a printed line I read:

“Youth is life’s seed-time”; so the clock-face said;

Some took its counsel, as the sequel showed,—

Sowed—their wild oats, and reaped as they had sowed.

How all comes back! the upward slanting floor,—

The masters’ thrones that flank the central door,—

The long, outstretching alleys that divide

The rows of desks that stand on either side,—

The staring boys, a face to every desk,

Bright, dull, pale, blooming, common, picturesque.

Grave is the Master’s look; his forehead wears

Thick rows of wrinkles, prints of worrying cares;

Uneasy lie the heads of all that rule,

His most of all whose kingdom is a school.

Supreme he sits; before the awful frown

That bends his brows the boldest eye goes down;

Not more submissive Israel heard and saw

At Sinai’s foot the Giver of the Law.

Less stern he seems, who sits in equal state

On the twin throne and shares the empire’s weight;

Around his lips the subtle life that plays

Steals quaintly forth in many a jesting phrase;

A lightsome nature, not so hard to chafe,

Pleasant when pleased; rough-handled, not so safe;

Some tingling memories vaguely I recall,

But to forgive him. God forgive us all!

One yet remains, whose well-remembered name

Pleads in my grateful heart its tender claim;

His was the charm magnetic, the bright look

That sheds its sunshine on the dreariest book;

A loving soul to every task he brought

That sweetly mingled with the lore he taught;

Sprung from a saintly race that never could

From youth to age be anything but good,

His few brief years in holiest labors spent,

Earth lost too soon the treasure heaven had lent.

Kindest of teachers, studious to divine

Some hint of promise in my earliest line,

These faint and faltering words thou canst not hear

Throb from a heart that holds thy memory dear.

As to the traveller’s eye the varied plain

Shows through the window of the flying train,

A mingled landscape, rather felt than seen,

A gravelly bank, a sudden flash of green,

A tangled wood, a glittering stream that flows

Through the cleft summit where the cliff once rose,

All strangely blended in a hurried gleam,

Rock, wood, waste, meadow, village, hillside, stream,—

So, as we look behind us, life appears,

Seen through the vista of our bygone years.