To J. R. L. on His Fiftieth Birthday.

From: The Bird and the Bell with Other Poems (1875)
Author: Christopher Pearse Cranch
Published: Osgood and Company 1875 Boston

J. R. L.

AT fifty years, how many frosty polls
We see, whose wintry solitude begins;
How many faces hard as Chaldee scrolls,
Crowfeet on parchment skins.

At fifty, Time has picked our thickest locks;
Polished the outer, dulled the inner head;
Filched golden dreams from many a knowledge-box,
And left dry facts instead.

Old beaux, not Cupid’s, are at fifty bent,
With stooping shoulders and with shambling gait;
Their sinew strings all slack, their arrows spent,
Their quivers desolate.

At fifty, scholars cease to dream, whose youth
Teemed with live thoughts, and generous hopes of man;
All influx fresh of beauty and of truth
Shut out as by a ban:

Cramped by a creed that bolts its windows down
Against the century’s light and vital air,—
Their dogmas shaped by some provincial town,
Their very gains a snare;

Life’s best aroma gone, when years should claim
The boon of calmest thought and widest scope:
The ring without the gem; a faded name;
An epitaph on hope.

Not so the friend whose buoyant step we greet
Rounding his hale half-century to-day,
Fresh as when earlier splendors lured his feet
Along the enchanted way,

When o’er the land lulled to unhealthy rest
He blew his trumpet tones or trilled his song,
Or winged his earnest arrow with a jest
Against the shield of wrong.

The truths we scorned so long and learned so late,
Burnt on the nation’s heart by war’s hot fire,
Long since he taught. We know now how to rate
His grave prophetic lyre.

Nor less his gayer moods, when wit and joke
Ran flashi11g down his chords in humor terse
And quaint, the talk of homely Yankee folk
Woven in sparkling verse.

His sweet enveloping fun, that wrapped the pill
Of pungent satire, through his wise discourse
Runs fresh as ever. Drugs that heal, not kill,
Are his; we know their source.

He from the first wrought through his varied rhyme
For truth, for fatherland, for freedom’s cause,
As now, through riper learning, in a time
Of better men and laws.

Grander than ever now his lyrics ring;
His humor with a richer flavor fraught;
Sweeter the willows through his idyls sing;
His best his latest thought.

Here under his ancestral elms we meet
In fireside talk; and in his social lights,
Unmindful how the poet’s winged feet
Have trod the lonely heights,

Forget the midnight lamp, the busy brain,
The converse with the treasures of his shelves,
And how the unconscious echo of his strain
Makes music in ourselves.

We greet him here, still young in wit and song,
His hair unbleached, his eye undimmed, his frame
Robust; a scholar ripe, a teacher strong,
A bard the ages claim.

We pledge the generous heart, the exuberant soul,
No grave professor’s mask can change or hide.
One toast, “The friend we love,” shall sum the whole,
Were all that’s said, denied.

For he needs not our homage or our praise:
He lives in us; and all who know his worth.
Flatter him not with formal wreath of bays
Grown in your Cambridge earth;

But crown him with the iris of his soul,
Caught from the sunshine of his life and name.
Our reflex of his light the aureole
That makes our love his fame.

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