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THE CHAMBERED NAUTILUS
The nautilus is a small mollusk that creeps upon the bottom of the sea, though it used to be supposed to swim, or even to spread a kind of sail so that the wind might drive it along the surface. What interests us in this poem is the way the nautilus grows. Just as a tree when sawed down has the record of its age in the number of its rings, so does the nautilus measure its age by the ever-widening compartments of its shell. These it has successively occupied. The poet, looking upon the now empty shell, thinks of human life as growing in the same way. We advance from one state of being to another, each nobler than the one which preceded it, until the spirit leaves its shell altogether and attains a glorious and perfect freedom.
HIS is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sailed the unshadowed main,—
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.
Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed,
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!
Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year's dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!
Oliver Wendell Holmes.
This little song vibrates with an optimism that embraces the whole universe. A frequent error in quoting it is the substitution of the word well for right. Browning is no such shallow optimist as to believe that all is well with the world, but he does maintain that things are right with the world, for in spite of its present evils it is slowly working its way toward perfection, and in the great scheme of things it may make these evil themselves an instrument to move it toward its ultimate goal.
HE year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hillside's dew-pearled;
All's right with the world.
The true value of anything lies, not in the object itself or in its legal possession, but in our attitude to it. We may own a thing in fee simple, yet derive from it nothing but vexation. For those who have little, as indeed for those who have much, there are no surer means of happiness than enjoying that which they do not possess. Emerson shows us that two harvests may be gathered from every field—a material one by the man who raised the crop, and an esthetic or spiritual one by whosoever can see beauty or thrill with an inner satisfaction.
HEY ride in Packards, those swell guys,
While I can't half afford a Ford;
Choice fillets fill a void for them,
We've cheese and prunes the place I board;
For ownership's a state of mind.
They own, you say? Pshaw, they possess!
The rich can't stop and just enjoy
Their lawns and shrubs and house-fronts trim
They're tied indoors and foot the bills;
I stroll or stray, as I'm inclined—-
The folks who have must try to keep
Yon gems by window-bars confined?
I own my office (I've a boss,
The business is not mine, but yet
The pretty girls I meet are mine
I own the block, I own the town-
St. Clair Adams.
A SMILING PARADOX
Good nature or ill is like the loaves and fishes. The more we give away, the more we have.
And, strange to say,
Altho' my frowns with care I've stowed away,
Wherein my treasures best I store,
I find my smiles increased by several score.
Permission of the Author.
From "Songs of Cheer."
John Kendrick Bangs.
THE NEW DUCKLING
There are people who, without having anything exceptional in their natures or purposes or visions, yet try to be different for the sake of being different. They are not content to be what they are; they wish to be "utterly other." Of course they are hollow, artificial, insincere; moreover they are nuisances. Their very foundations are wrong ones. Be yourself unless you're a fool; in that case, of course, try to be somebody else.
WANT to be new," said the duckling.
"O ho!" said the wise old owl,
While the guinea-hen cluttered off chuckling
"I should like a more elegant figure," That child of a duck went on.
"I should like to grow bigger and bigger, Until I could swallow a swan.
"I won't be the bond slave of habit,
"I don't want to waddle like mother, Or quack like my silly old dad.
I want to be utterly other,
And frightfully modern and mad.”
"Do you know," said the turkey, "you're quacking! There's a fox creeping up thro' the rye;
And, if you're not utterly lacking,
You'll make for that duck-pond. Good-bye!"
But the duckling was perky as perky.