Contentment

By Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. 1809–1894 Oliver Wendell Holmes

“Man wants but little here below”

Little I ask; my wants are few;
   I only wish a hut of stone,
(A very plain brown stone will do,)
   That I may call my own;—
And close at hand is such a one,
In yonder street that fronts the sun.

Plain food is quite enough for me;
   Three courses are as good as ten;—
If Nature can subsist on three,
   Thank Heaven for three. Amen!
I always thought cold victual nice;—
My choice would be vanilla-ice.

I care not much for gold or land;—
   Give me a mortgage here and there,—
Some good bank-stock, some note of hand,
   Or trifling railroad share,—
I only ask that Fortune send
A little more than I shall spend.

Honors are silly toys, I know,
   And titles are but empty names;
I would, perhaps, be Plenipo,—
   But only near St. James;
I’m very sure I should not care
To fill our Gubernator’s chair.

Jewels are baubles; ’t is a sin
   To care for such unfruitful things;—
One good-sized diamond in a pin,—
   Some, not so large, in rings,—
A ruby, and a pearl, or so,
Will do for me;—I laugh at show.

My dame should dress in cheap attire;
   (Good, heavy silks are never dear;)—
I own perhaps I might desire
   Some shawls of true Cashmere,—
Some marrowy crapes of China silk,
Like wrinkled skins on scalded milk.

I would not have the horse I drive
   So fast that folks must stop and stare;
An easy gait—two forty-five—
   Suits me; I do not care;—
Perhaps, for just a single spurt,
Some seconds less would do no hurt.

Of pictures, I should like to own
   Titians and Raphaels three or four,—
I love so much their style and tone,
   One Turner, and no more,
(A landscape,—foreground golden dirt,—
The sunshine painted with a squirt.)

Of books but few,—some fifty score
   For daily use, and bound for wear;
The rest upon an upper floor;—
   Some little luxury there
Of red morocco’s gilded gleam
And vellum rich as country cream.

Busts, cameos, gems,—such things as these,
   Which others often show for pride,
I value for their power to please,
   And selfish churls deride;—
One Stradivarius, I confess,
Two Meerschaums, I would fain possess.

Wealth’s wasteful tricks I will not learn,
   Nor ape the glittering upstart fool;—
Shall not carved tables serve my turn,
   But all must be of buhl?
Give grasping pomp its double share,—
I ask but one recumbent chair.

Thus humble let me live and die,
   Nor long for Midas’ golden touch;
If Heaven more generous gifts deny,
   I shall not miss them much,—
Too grateful for the blessing lent
Of simple tastes and mind content!

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Poet Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. 1809–1894

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Class, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics, Humor & Satire

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

Biography

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was a brilliant doctor who was well known for his witty lectures at Harvard. Also a poet and essayist, Holmes’s prose series “The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table” first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly with its inaugural issue in 1857. A year later it was published as a book, which also included some of his most memorable poetry.

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Class, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics, Humor & Satire

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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