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On Lending A Punch-Bowl
Oliver Wendell Holmes


This ancient silver bowl of mine, it tells of good old times,
Of joyous days and jolly nights, and merry Christmas times;
They were a free and jovial race, but honest, brave, and true,
Who dipped their ladle in the punch when this old bowl was new.

A Spanish galleon brought the bar, so runs the ancient tale;
'T was hammered by an Antwerp smith, whose arm was like a flail;
And now and then between the strokes, for fear his strength should fail,
He wiped his brow and quaffed a cup of good old Flemish ale.

'T was purchased by an English squire to please his loving dame,
Who saw the cherubs, and conceived a longing for the same;
And oft as on the ancient stock another twig was found,
'T was filled with candle spiced and hot, and handed smoking round.

But, changing hands, it reached at length a Puritan divine,
Who used to follow Timothy, and take a little wine,
But hated punch and prelacy; and so it was, perhaps,
He went to Leyden, where he found conventicles and schnapps.

And then, of course, you know what's next: it left the Dutchman's shore
With those that in the Mayflower came, a hundred souls and more,
Along with all the furniture, to fill their new abodes, - 
To judge by what is still on hand, at least a hundred loads.

'T was on a dreary winter's eve, the night was closing, dim,
When brave Miles Standish took the bowl, and filled it to the brim;
The little Captain stood and stirred the posset with his sword,
And all his sturdy men-at-arms were ranged about the board.

He poured the fiery Hollands in, the man that never feared, - 
He took a long and solemn draught, and wiped his yellow beard;
And one by one the musketeers
- the men that fought and prayed - 
All drank as 't were their mother's milk, and not a man afraid.

That night, affrighted from his nest, the screaming eagle flew,
He heard the Pequot's ringing whoop, the soldier's wild halloo;
And there the sachem learned the rule he taught to kith and kin,
Run from the white man when you find he smells of "Hollands gin!"

A hundred years, and fifty more, had spread their leaves and snows,
A thousand rubs had flattened down each little cherub's nose,
When once again the bowl was filled, but not in mirth or joy, - 
'T was mingled by a mother's hand to cheer her parting boy.

Drink, John, she said, 't will do you good, poor child, you'll never bear
This working in the dismal trench, out in the midnight air;
And if - God bless me!
- you were hurt, 't would keep away the chill.
So John did drink, and well he wrought that night at Bunker's Hill!

I tell you, there was generous warmth in good old English cheer;
I tell you, 't was a pleasant thought to bring its symbol here.
'T is but the fool that loves excess; hast thou a drunken soul?
Thy bane is in thy shallow skull, not in my silver bowl!

I love the memory of the past,
- its pressed yet fragrant flowers, - 
The moss that clothes its broken walls, the ivy on its towers;
Nay, this poor bauble it bequeathed, my eyes grow moist and dim,
To think of all the vanished joys that danced around its brim.

Then fill a fair and honest cup, and bear it straight to me;
The goblet hallows all it holds, whate'er the liquid be;
And may the cherubs on its face protect me from the sin
That dooms one to those dreadful words, "My dear, where have you been?"


This poem is in the public domain.



Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809 – 1894) was a Massachusetts doctor, professor, and writer. A graduate of Harvard, Oliver’s circle of friends included Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His body of work included three novels, several nonfiction books, and an extensive number of magazine articles and professional papers, but it was poetry—which Oliver began writing as a child—for which he was best known.

Post New Comment:
This is charming.
Posted 12/10/2016 01:52 PM
Exquisite telling of a stirring family memory/tradition! A punch bowl shall never be the same,Jayne.Thanks!
Posted 12/10/2016 10:35 AM
Larry Schug:
A veritable novel in poetry! I agree. Good find, Jayne.
Posted 12/10/2016 07:38 AM
Oh what a find. Thanks, Jayne.
Posted 12/10/2016 07:29 AM
Jean :D:
Since I am a saver of "families' any things", I really enjoyed this poem. A fun way to learn one's history lessons too. Thanks Jayne.
Posted 12/10/2016 07:00 AM
I hope Holmes gained something from his quatrains.
Posted 12/10/2016 04:06 AM

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