The Silent Melody
by Oliver Wendell Holmes
Bring me my broken harp, he said;
We both are wrecks, -- but as ye will, --
Though all its ringing tones have fled,
Their echoes linger round it still
It had some golden strings, I know,
But that was long, -- how long!-- ago.
I cannot see its tarnished gold,
I cannot hear its vanished tone,
Scarce can my trembling fingers hold
The pillared frame so long their own
We both are wrecks, -- a while ago
It had some silver strings, I know,
But on them Time too long has played
The solemn strain that knows no change,
And where of old my fingers strayed
The chords they find are new and strange, --
Yes! iron strings, -- I know, -- I know,
We both are wrecks of long ago.
We both are wrecks, -- a shattered pair, --
Strange to ourselves in time's disguise, . . .
What say ye to the lovesick air
That brought the tears from Marian's eyes?
Ay! trust me, -- under breasts of snow
Hearts could be melted long ago!
Or will ye hear the storm-song's crash
That from his dreams the soldier woke,
And bade him face the lightning flash
When battle's cloud in thunder broke? . . .
Wrecks, -- nought but wrecks! the time was when
We two were worth a thousand men!
And so the broken harp they bring
With pitying smiles that none could blame;
Alas! there's not a single string
Of all that filled the tarnished frame!
But see! like children overjoyed,
His fingers rambling through the void!
I clasp thee! Ay . . . mine ancient lyre . . .
Nay, guide my wandering fingers . . . There!
They love to dally with the wire
As Isaac played with Esau's hair . . .
Hush! ye shall hear the famous tune
That Marian called the Breath of June!
And so they softly gather round:
Rapt in his tuneful trance he seems:
His fingers move: but not a sound!
A silence like the song of dreams...
There! ye have heard the air, he cries,
That brought the tears from Marian's eyes!
Ah, smile not at his fond conceit,
Nor deem his fancy wrought in vain;
To him the unreal sounds are sweet, --
No discord mars the silent strain
Scored on life's latest, starlit page --
The voiceless melody of age.
Sweet are the lips of all that sing,
When Nature's music breathes unsought,
But never yet could voice or string
So truly shape our tenderest thought
As when by life's decaying fire
Our fingers sweep the stringless lyre!
Source:Illustrated poems of Oliver Wendell Holmes
Boston: Houghton, Mifflin And Company
New York: 11 East Seventeenth Street