Bill and Joe
By Oliver Wendell Holmes
COME, dear old comrade, you and I
Will steal an hour from days gone by,
The shining days when life was new,
And all was bright with morning dew,
The lusty days of long ago,
When you were Bill and I was Joe.
Your name may flaunt a titled trail
Proud as a cockerel's rainbow tail,
And mine as brief appendix wear
As Tam O'Shanter's luckless mare;
To-day, old friend, remember still
That I am Joe and you are Bill.
You've won the great world's envied prize,
And grand you look in people's eyes,
With H O N. and L L. D.
In big brave letters, fair to see,--
Your fist, old fellow! off they go!--
How are you, Bill? How are you, Joe?
You've worn the judge's ermined robe;
You've taught your name to half the globe;
You've sung mankind a deathless strain;
You've made the dead past live again:
The world may call you what it will,
But you and I are Joe and Bill.
The chaffing young folks stare and say
"See those old buffers, bent and gray,--
They talk like fellows in their teens
Mad, poor old boys! That's what it means,"--
And shake their heads; they little know
The throbbing hearts of Bill and Joe!--
How Bill forgets his hour of pride,
While Joe sits smiling at his side;
How Joe, in spite of time's disguise,
Finds the old schoolmate in his eyes,--
Those calm, stern eyes that melt and fill
As Joe looks fondly up at Bill.
Ah, pensive scholar, what is fame?
A fitful tongue of leaping flame;
A giddy whirlwind's fickle gust,
That lifts a pinch of mortal dust;
A few swift years, and who can show
Which dust was Bill and which was Joe?
The weary idol takes his stand,
Holds out his bruised and aching hand,
While gaping thousands come and go,--
How vain it seems, this empty show!
Till all at once his pulses thrill;--
'T is poor old Joe's "God bless you, Bill!"
And shall we breathe in happier spheres
The names that pleased our mortal ears;
In some sweet lull of harp and song
For earth-born spirits none too long,
Just whispering of the world below
Where this was Bill and that was Joe?
No matter; while our home is here
No sounding name is half so dear;
When fades at length our lingering day,
Who cares what pompous tombstones say?
Read on the hearts that love us still,
Hic jacet Joe. Hic jacet Bill.
Note to the Collected Poetical Works,
to Poems of the Class of '29
["THE class of 1829 at Harvard College, of which I am a member, graduated, according to the triennial, fifty-nine in number. It is sixty years, then, since that time; and as they were, On an average, about twenty years old, those who survive must have reached fourscore years. Of the fifty-nine graduates ten only are living, or were at the last accounts; one in six, very nearly. In the first ten years after graduation, our third decade, when we were between twenty and thirty years old, we lost three members, about one in twenty; between the ages of thirty and forty, eight died,-- one in seven of those the decade began with; from forty to fifty, only two,-- or one in twenty-four; from fifty to sixty, eight, or one in six; from sixty to seventy, fifteen,-- or two out of every five; from seventy to eighty, twelve, or one in two. The greatly increased mortality which began with our seventh decade went on steadily increasing. At sixty we come 'within range of the rifle-pits.' to borrow an expression from my friend Weir Mitchell." --Over The Teacups, p.28. . . .]