Next> | <Prev |

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)

Latter-Day Warnings

By Oliver Wendell Holmes


WHEN legislators keep the law,
When banks dispense with bolts and locks,
When berries-- whortle, rasp, and straw--
Grow bigger downwards through the box,--

When he that selleth house or land
Shows leak in roof or flaw in right,--
When haberdashers choose the stand
Whose window hath the broadest light,--

When preachers tell us all they think,
And party leaders all they mean,--
When what we pay for, that we drink,
From real grape and coffee-bean,--

When lawyers take what they would give,
And doctors give what they would take,--
When city fathers eat to live,
Save when they fast for conscience' sake,--

When one that hath a horse on sale
Shall bring his merit to the proof,
Without a lie for every nail
That holds the iron on the hoof,--

When in the usual place for rips
Our gloves are stitched with special care,
And guarded well the whalebone tips
Where first umbrellas need repair,--

When Cuba's weeds have quite forgot
The power of suction to resist,
And claret-bottles harbor not
Such dimples as would hold your fist,--

When publishers no longer steal,
And pay for what they stole before,--
When the first locomotive's wheel
Rolls through the Hoosac Tunnel's bore;--

Till then let Cumming blaze away,
And Miller's saints blow up the globe;
But when you see that blessed day,
Then order your ascension robe!

Author's Note to The Complete Poetical Works

I should have felt more nervous about the late comet, if I had thought the world was ripe. But it is very green yet, if I am not mistaken; and besides, there is a great deal of coal to use up, which I cannot bring myself to think was made for nothing. If certain things, which seem to me essential to a millennium, had come to pass, I should have been frightened; but they haven't.

This hoped for, but long despaired of, event [opening of the Hoosac Tunnel] occurred on the 9th of February, 1875.

[Superstitious people believed Donati's Comet forecast the end of the world.]

[Alfred Cumming was the first territorial governor of Utah, 1857, under office protected by federal troops from the Mormons.]

[William Miller (1782-1849) and his followers preached that everyone should sell their goods because the end of the world was imminent. Their church in Boston later became a famous burlesque theater.]