June 15, 2010

Holmes: Angel of Peace

Oliver Wendell Holmes was the go-to guy in the Boston area (and beyond) whenever an occasional poem was needed. He wrote poems specific to events like college reunions, ground-breaking of buildings, dinner parties, birthday parties, annual meetings for various social and academic societies, and more. Known for his good nature, his humor, and his ability to work the crowd (so to speak), Holmes sometimes showed up with a flute to entertain his audiences. Sometimes, his original poems were set to music, usually to well-known tunes.

On June 15, 1869, Holmes attended the "Jubilee" celebration for the end of the Civil War. His poem, "A Hymn of Peace," was sung to the tune of Matthias Keller's "American Hymn":

Angel of Peace, thou hast wandered too long!
Spread thy white wings to the sunshine of love!
Come while our voices are blended in song,—
Fly to our ark like the storm-beaten dove!
Fly to our ark on the wings of the dove,—
Speed o'er the far-sounding billows of song,
Crowned with thine olive-leaf garland of love,—
Angel of Peace, thou hast waited too long!

Joyous we meet, on this altar of thine
Mingling the gifts we have gathered for thee,
Sweet with the odors of myrtle and pine,
Breeze of the prairie and breath of the sea,—
Meadow and mountain and forest and sea!
Sweet is the fragrance of myrtle and pine,
Sweeter the incense we offer to thee,
Brothers once more round this altar of thine!

Angels of Bethlehem, answer the strain!
Hark! a new birth-song is filling the sky!—
Loud as the storm-wind that tumbles the main
Bid the full breath of the organ reply,—
Let the loud tempest of voices reply,—
Roll its long surge like the-earth-shaking main!
Swell the vast song till it mounts to the sky!
Angels of Bethlehem, echo the strain! 

In the lead-up to the Civil War, Holmes stayed mostly on the fence. When his son (the future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.) was injured in battle, the elder Holmes famously went to find him. It was then that Holmes's major pro-Union stance was sparked.

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