To James Russell Lowell

A poetic tribute delivered on Lowell’s seventieth birthday

A health to him whose double wreath displays
The critic’s ivy and the poet’s bays;
Who stayed not till with undisputed claim
The civic garland filled his meed of fame;
True knight of Freedom, ere her doubtful cause
Rose from the dust to meet the world’s applause,
His country’s champion on the bloodless field
Where truth and manhood stand for spear and shield!

Who is the critic? He who never skips
The luckless passage where his author slips;
Slides o’er his merits, stumbles at his faults,
Calls him a cripple if he sometimes halts,
Rich in the caustic epithets that sting,
The venom-vitriol malice loves to fling;
His quill a feathered fang at hate’s command,
His ink the product of his poison-gland, —
Is this the critic? Call him not a snake, —
This noxious creature, — for the reptile’s sake!
     He is the critic who is first to mark
The star of genius when its glimmering spark
First pricks the sky, not waiting to proclaim
Its coming glory till it bursts in flame.
He is the critic whose divining rod
Tells where the waters hide beneath the sod;
Whom studious search through varied lore has taught
The streams, the rills, the fountain-heads, of thought;
Who, if some careless phrase, some slipshod clause,
Crack Priscian’s skull or break Quintilian’s laws,
Points out the blunder in a kindly way,
Nor tries his larger wisdom to display.
Where will you seek him? Wander far and wide,
Then turn and find him seated at your side!
     Who is the poet? He who matches rhymes
In the late fashion of the new-born times;
Sweats over sonnets till the toil seems worse
Than Heaven intended in the primal curse;
Work, duties, pleasures, every claim forgets,
To shape his rondeaus and his triolets?
Or is it he whose random venture throws
His lawless whimseys into moonstruck prose,
Where they who worship the barbarian’s creed
Will find a rhythmic cadence as they read,
As the pleased rustic hears a tune, or thinks
He hears a tune, in every bell that clinks?
Are these the poets? Though their pens should blot
A thousand volumes, surely such are not.
     Who is the poet? He whom Nature chose
In that sweet season when she made the rose.
Though with the changes of our colder clime
His birthday will come somewhat out of time,
Through all the shivering winter’s frost and chill
The bloom and fragrance cling around it still.
He is the poet who can stoop to read
The secret hidden in a wayside weed;
Whom June’s warm breath with childlike rapture fills,
Whose spirit “dances with the daffodils;”
Whom noble deeds with noble thoughts inspire
And lend his verse the true Promethean fire;
Who drinks the waters of enchanted streams
That wind and wander through the land of dreams;
For whom the unreal is the real world,
In fairer flowers with brighter dews impearled.
He looks a mortal till he spreads his wings, —
He seems an angel when he soars and sings!
Behold the poet! Heaven his days prolong,
Whom Elmwood’s nursery cradled into song!

Who is the patriot? He who deftly bends
To every shift that serves his private ends,
His face all smiling while his conscience squirms,
His back as limber as a canker worm’s;
Who sees his country floundering through a drift,
Nor stirs a hand the laboring wheel to lift,
But trusts to Nature’s leisure-loving law,
And waits with patience for the snow to thaw?
     Or is he one who, called to conflict, draws
His trusty weapon in his country’s cause;
Who, born a poet, grasps his trenchant rhymes
And strikes unshrinking at the nation’s crimes;
Who in the days of peril learns to teach
The wisest lessons in the homeliest speech;
Whose plain good sense, alive with tingling wit,
Can always find a handle that will fit;
Who touches lightly with Ithuriel spear
The toad close squatting at the people’s ear,
And bids the laughing, scornful word descry
The masking demon, the incarnate lie?
This, this is he his country well may say
Is fit to share her savior’s natal day!
     Think not the date a worn-out king assigned
As Life’s full measure holds for all mankind; Shall Gladstone, crowned with eighty years, withdraw?
See, nearer home, the Lion of the Law, —
How Court Street trembles when he leaves his den.
Clad in the pomp of four score years and ten!

Once more the health of Nature’s favored son,
The poet, critic, patriot, all in one;
Health, honor, friendship, ever round him wait
In life’s fair field beyond the seven-barred gate!