Oliver Wendell Holmes

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Aug 29, 1809 - Oct 7, 1894


The Old Man Of The Sea

by Oliver Wendell Holmes

A nightmare dream by daylight.

Do you know the Old Man of the Sea, of the Sea?
Have you met with that dreadful old man?
If you haven't been caught, you will be, you will be
For catch you he must and he can.

He doesn't hold on by your throat, by your throat,
As of old in the terrible tale;
But he grapples you tight by the coat, by the coat,
Till its buttons and button-holes fail.

There's the charm of a snake in his eye, in his eye,
And a polypus-grip in his hands;
You cannot go back, nor get by, nor get by,
If you look at the spot where he stands.

Oh, you're grabbed! See his claw on your sleeve, on your sleeve!
It is Sinbad's Old Man of the Sea!
You're a Christian, no doubt you believe, you believe:
You're a martyr, whatever you be!

-- Is the breakfast-hour past? They must wait, they must wait,
While the coffee boils sullenly down,
While the Johnny-cake burns on the grate, on the grate,
And the toast is done frightfully brown.

-- Yes, your dinner will keep; let it cool, let it cool,
And Madam may worry and fret,
And children half-starved go to school, go to school;
He can't think of sparing you yet.

-- Hark! the bell for the train! Come along! Come along!
For there isn't a second to lose.

ALL ABOARD! (He holds on.) Fsht! ding-dong! Fsht! ding-dong! --
You can follow on foot if you choose.

-- There's a maid with a cheek like a peach, like a peach,
That is waiting for you in the church; --
But he clings to your side like a leech, like a leech,
And you leave your lost bride in the lurch.

-- There's a babe in a fit, -- hurry quick! hurry quick!
To the doctor's as fast as you can!
The baby is off, while you stick, while you stick,
In the grip of the dreadful Old Man!

-- I have looked on the face of the Bore, of the Bore;
The voice of the Simple I know;
I have welcomed the Flat at my door, at my door;
I have sat by the side of the Slow;

I have walked like a lamb by the friend, by the friend,
That stuck to my skirts like a bur;
I have borne the stale talk without end, without end,
Of the sitter whom nothing could stir:

But my hamstrings grow loose, and I shake, and I shake,
At the sight of the dreadful Old Man;
Yea, I quiver and quake, and I take, and I take
To my legs with what vigor I can!

Oh the dreadful Old Man of the Sea, of the Sea!
He's come back like the Wandering Jew1
He has had his cold claw upon me, upon me, --
And be sure that he'll have it on you!

Notes to the poem:

1An imaginary person about whom there are several legends, one of which is as follows: As the Saviour was on his way to the place of execution, overcome with the weight of the cross, he wished to rest on a stone before the house of a Jew, whom the story calls Ahasuerus, who drove him away with curses. Jesus calmly replied: Thou shalt wander on the earth till I return.


Grandmother's Story And Other Poems
Copyright 1888
Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company