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Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)


By Oliver Wendell Holmes


A Prologue? Well, of course the ladies know;--
I have my doubts. No matter,--here we go!
What is a Prologue? Let our Tutor teach:
Pro means beforehand; logos stands for speech.
'Tis like the harper's prelude on the strings,
The prima donna's courtesy ere she sings
Prologues in metre are to other pros
As worsted stockings are to engine-hose.
"The world's a stage,"--as Shakspeare said, one day;
The stage a world--was what he meant to say.
The outside world's a blunder, that is clear;
The real world that Nature meant is here.
Here every foundling finds its lost mamma;
Each rogue, repentant, melts his stern papa;
Misers relent, the spendthrift's debts are paid,
The cheats are taken in the traps they laid;
One after one the troubles all are past
Till the fifth act comes right side up at last,
When the young couple, old folks, rogues, and all,
Join hands, so happy at the curtain's fall.
Here suffering virtue ever finds relief,
And black-browed ruffians always come to grief.
When the lorn damsel, with a frantic screech,
And cheeks as hueless as a brandy-peach,
Cries, "Help, kyind Heaven!" and drops upon her knees
On the green--baize,--beneath the (canvas) trees,--
See to her side avenging Valor fly:--
"Ha! Villain! Draw! Now, Terraitorr, yield or die!"
When the poor hero flounders in despair,
Some dear lost uncle turns up millionnaire,--
Clasps the young scapegrace with paternal joy,
Sobs on his neck, "My boy! MY BOY!! MY BOY!!!

Ours, then, sweet friends, the real world tonight.
Of love that conquers in disaster's spite.
Ladies, attend! While woeful cares and doubt
Wrong the soft passion in the world without,
Though fortune scowl, though prudence interfere,
One thing is certain: Love will triumph here!
Lords of creation, whom your ladies rule,--
The world's great masters, when you're out of school,--
Learn the brief moral of our evening's play:
Man has his will,--but woman has her way!
While man's dull spirit toils in smoke and fire,
Woman's swift instinct threads the electric wire,--
The magic bracelet stretched beneath the waves
Beats the black giant with his score of slaves.
But that one rebel,--woman's wilful heart.
All foes you master; but a woman's wit
Lets daylight through you ere you know you're hit.
So, just to picture what her art can do,
Hear an old story, made as good as new.

Rudolph, professor of the headsman's trade,
Alike was famous for his arm and blade.
One day a prisoner Justice had to kill
Knelt at the block to test the artist's skill.
Bare-armed, swart-visaged, gaunt, and shaggy-browed,
Rudolph the headsman rose above the crowd.
His falchion lightened with a sudden gleam,
As the pike's armor flashes in the stream.
He sheathed his blade; he turned as if to go;
The victim knelt, still waiting for the blow.
"Why strikest not? Perform thy murderous act,"
The prisoner said. (His voice was slightly cracked.)
"Friend I have struck," the artist straight replied;
Wait but one moment, and yourself decide."
He held his snuff-box,--"Now then, if you please!"
The prisoner sniffed, and, with a crashing sneeze,
Off his head tumbled,--bowled along the floor,--
Bounced down the steps;--the prisoner said no more!
Woman! thy fashion is a glittering eye;
If death lurks in it, oh, how sweet to die!
Thou takest hearts as Rudolph took the head;
We die with love, and never dream we're dead!

[See Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, 2]