The Living Temple

By Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. 1809–1894 Oliver Wendell Holmes
Not in the world of light alone,
Where God has built his blazing throne,
Nor yet alone in earth below,
With belted seas that come and go,
And endless isles of sunlit green,
Is all thy Maker’s glory seen:
Look in upon thy wondrous frame,—
Eternal wisdom still the same!

The smooth, soft air with pulse-like waves
Flows murmuring through its hidden caves,
Whose streams of brightening purple rush,
Fired with a new and livelier blush,
While all their burden of decay
The ebbing current steals away,
And red with Nature’s flame they start
From the warm fountains of the heart.

No rest that throbbing slave may ask,
Forever quivering o’er his task,
While far and wide a crimson jet
Leaps forth to fill the woven net
Which in unnumbered crossing tides
The flood of burning life divides,
Then, kindling each decaying part,
Creeps back to find the throbbing heart.

But warmed with that unchanging flame
Behold the outward moving frame,
Its living marbles jointed strong
With glistening band and silvery thong,
And linked to reason’s guiding reins
By myriad rings in trembling chains,
Each graven with the threaded zone
Which claims it as the master’s own.

See how yon beam of seeming white
Is braided out of seven-hued light,
Yet in those lucid globes no ray
By any chance shall break astray.
Hark how the rolling surge of sound,
Arches and spirals circling round,
Wakes the hushed spirit through thine ear
With music it is heaven to hear.

Then mark the cloven sphere that holds
All thought in its mysterious folds;
That feels sensation’s faintest thrill,
And flashes forth the sovereign will;
Think on the stormy world that dwells
Locked in its dim and clustering cells!
The lightning gleams of power it sheds
Along its hollow glassy threads!

O Father! grant thy love divine
To make these mystic temples thine!
When wasting age and wearying strife
Have sapped the leaning walls of life,
When darkness gathers over all,
And the last tottering pillars fall,
Take the poor dust thy mercy warms,
And mould it into heavenly forms!

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Poet Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. 1809–1894

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Subjects Nature, Religion, Stars, Planets, Heavens, Trees & Flowers, Landscapes & Pastorals, God & the Divine

Poetic Terms Couplet, Imagery

 Oliver  Wendell Holmes Sr.

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 Nature, Religion, Stars, Planets, Heavens, Trees & Flowers, Landscapes & Pastorals, God & the Divine

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Poetic Terms Couplet, Imagery

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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