January 31, 2013

Wisdom's there for youth to get

When Edward Sandford Martin was invited to speak at the Harvard Club dinner in New York, everyone should have expected something fun and witty. A founder of the Harvard Lampoon, Martin's humor was celebrated even before his graduation from Harvard in 1877. Standing before his fellow alumni on January 31, 1908, Martin presented his poem "What For?" — a spirited though genuine poem about the student experience there:

What do we go to Harvard for?
What is it all about?
Our fathers knew of something there
They thought it worth our while to share;
Something we think our boys can't spare,
So they go, too; and all the more
The riddle presses "What's it for?"
What's in Harvard that men misdoubt
'Twere futile thrift to do without?

Wisdom's there for youth to get:
Follies galore to do.
Did ever youth learn wisdom yet
But glanced at Folly too?
Between the covers of books
Stands knowledge in noble store,
But it's not all there; it's everywhere:
And to learn to know its looks,
And find, and use it more and more,
Is what we go to Harvard for.

To get in touch with many men,
And to get close up to a few:
To make wise marks with a doubtful pen;
And to guess, and have it come true.
To learn to make food and drink
With labor and mirth agree;
To learn to live, and learn to think;
And to learn to be happy though free—

These at Harvard seek our Youth,
Nor in their seeking fail.
And they gain betimes the vision of truth;
And they play some games with Yale.
If they don't 'most always win,
The reason 's easily shown;
The board at home's so rich in fare
They can't get hungry enough to care
With due concern and enough despair,
Who gets contention's bone.

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