by: Oliver Wendell Holmes
- OW, by the
blessed Paphian queen,
- Who heaves the breast of sweet sixteen;
- By every name I cut on bark
- Before my morning star grew dark;
- By Hymen's torch, by Cupid's dart,
- By all that thrills the beating heart;
- The bright black eye, the melting blue,--
- I cannot choose between the two.
- I had a vision in my dreams;--
- I saw a row of twenty beams;
- From every beam a rope was hung,
- In every rope a lover swung;
- I asked the hue of every eye
- That bade each luckless lover die;
- Ten shadowy lips said, heavenly blue,
- And ten accused the darker hue.
- I asked a matron which she deemed
- With fairest light of beauty beamed;
- She answered, some thought both were fair,--
- Give her blue eyes and golden hair.
- I might have liked her judgment well,
- But, as she spoke, she rung the bell,
- And all her girls, nor small nor few,
- Came marching in, -- their eyes were blue.
- I asked a maiden; back she flung
- The locks that round her forehead hung,
- And turned her eye, a glorious one,
- Bright as a diamond in the sun,
- On me, until beneath its rays
- I felt as if my hair would blaze;
- She liked all eyes but eyes of green;
- She looked at me; what could she mean?
- Ah! many lids Love lurks between,
- Nor heeds the coloring of his screen;
- And when his random arrows fly,
- The victim falls, but knows not why.
- Gaze not upon his shield of jet,
- The shaft upon the string is set;
- Look not beneath his azure veil,
- Though every limb were cased in mail.
- Well, both might make a martyr break
- The chain that bound him to the stake;
- And both, with but a single ray,
- Can melt our very hearts away;
- And both, when balanced, hardly seem
- To stir the scales, or rock the beam;
- But that is dearest, all the while,
- That wears for us the sweetest smile.
MORE POEMS BY OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES
"The Dilemma" is reprinted
from The Poetical Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes. Oliver
Wendell Holmes. New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1892.