A Poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes
It is not what we say or sing,
That keeps our charm so long unbroken,
Though every lightest leaf we bring
May touch the heart as friendship’s token;
Not what we sing or what we say
Can make us dearer to each other;
We love the singer and his lay,
But love as well the silent brother.
Yet bring whate’er your garden grows,
Thrice welcome to our smiles and praises;
Thanks for the myrtle and the rose,
Thanks for the marigolds and daisies;
One flower erelong we all shall claim,
Alas! unloved of Amaryllis –
Nature’s last blossom-need I name
The wreath of threescore’s silver lilies?
How many, brothers, meet to-night
Around our boyhood’s covered embers?
Go read the treasured names aright
The old triennial list remembers;
Though twenty wear the starry sign
That tells a life has broke its tether,
The fifty-eight of ‘twenty-nine –
God bless THE Boys! – are all together!
These come with joyous look and word,
With friendly grasp and cheerful greeting, –
Those smile unseen, and move unheard,
The angel guests of every meeting;
They cast no shadow in the flame
That flushes from the gilded lustre,
But count us – we are still the same;
One earthly band, one heavenly cluster!
Love dies not when he bows his head
To pass beyond the narrow portals, –
The light these glowing moments shed
Wakes from their sleep our lost immortals;
They come as in their joyous prime,
Before their morning days were numbered, –
Death stays the envious hand of Time, –
The eyes have not grown dim that slumbered!
The paths that loving souls have trod
Arch o’er the dust where worldlings grovel
High as the zenith o’er the sod, –
The cross above the sexton’s shovel!
We rise beyond the realms of day;
They seem to stoop from spheres of glory
With us one happy hour to stray,
While youth comes back in song and story.
Ah! ours is friendship true as steel
That war has tried in edge and temper;
It writes upon its sacred seal
The priest’s ubique – omnes – semper!
It lends the sky a fairer sun
That cheers our lives with rays as steady
As if our footsteps had begun
To print the golden streets already!
The tangling years have clinched its knot
Too fast for mortal strength to sunder;
The lightning bolts of noon are shot;
No fear of evening’s idle thunder!
Too late! too late! – no graceless hand
Shall stretch its cords in vain endeavor
To rive the close encircling band
That made and keeps us one forever!
So when upon the fated scroll
The falling stars have all descended,
And, blotted from the breathing roll,
Our little page of life is ended,
We ask but one memorial line
Traced on thy tablet, Gracious Mother
“My children. Boys of ’29.
In pace. How they loved each other!”