Contentment

Original Text: 
The Complete Poetical Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, ed. H. E. S. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1895): 157-58. PS 1955 A1 1895 Robarts Library.
"Man wants but little here below"
2  I only wish a hut of stone,
3(A very plain brown stone will do,)
4  That I may call my own; --
5And close at hand is such a one,
6In yonder street that fronts the sun.
7Plain food is quite enough for me;
8  Three courses are as good as ten; --
9If Nature can subsist on three,
10  Thank Heaven for three. Amen!
11I always thought cold victual nice; --
12My choice would be vanilla-ice.
13I care not much for gold or land; --
14  Give me a mortgage here and there, --
15Some good bank-stock, some note of hand,
16  Or trifling railroad share, --
17I only ask that Fortune send
18A little more than I shall spend.
19Honors are silly toys, I know,
20  And titles are but empty names;
23I'm very sure I should not care
25Jewels are baubles; 't is a sin
26  To care for such unfruitful things; --
27One good-sized diamond in a pin, --
28  Some, not so large, in rings, --
29A ruby, and a pearl, or so,
30Will do for me; -- I laugh at show.
31My dame should dress in cheap attire;
32  (Good, heavy silks are never dear;) --
33I own perhaps I might desire
36Like wrinkled skins on scalded milk.
37I would not have the horse I drive
38  So fast that folks must stop and stare;
39An easy gait -- two forty-five --
40  Suits me; I do not care; --
41Perhaps, for just a single spurt,
42Some seconds less would do no hurt.
43Of pictures, I should like to own
45I love so much their style and tone,
47(A landscape, -- foreground golden dirt, --
48The sunshine painted with a squirt.)
49Of books but few, -- some fifty score
50  For daily use, and bound for wear;
51The rest upon an upper floor; --
52  Some little luxury there
53Of red morocco's gilded gleam
54And vellum rich as country cream.
55Busts, cameos, gems, -- such things as these,
56  Which others often show for pride,
57I value for their power to please,
58  And selfish churls deride; --
61Wealth's wasteful tricks I will not learn,
62  Nor ape the glittering upstart fool; --
63Shall not carved tables serve my turn,
65Give grasping pomp its double share, --
66I ask but one recumbent chair.
67Thus humble let me live and die,
69If Heaven more generous gifts deny,
70  I shall not miss them much, --
71Too grateful for the blessing lent
72Of simple tastes and mind content!

Notes

1] The epigraph is from Oliver Goldsmith's "The Hermit, or Edwin and Angelina," in chapter 8 of his The Vicar of Wakefield.
"Should you like to hear what moderate wishes life brings one to at last? I used to be very ambitious, -- wasteful, extravagant, and luxurious in all my fancies. Read too much in the Arabian Nights. Must have the lamp, -- couldn't do without the ring. Exercise every morning on the brazen horse. Plump down into castles as full of little milk-white princesses as a nest is of young sparrows. All love me dearly at once. -- Charming idea of life, but too high-colored for the reality. I have outgrown all this; my tastes have become exceedingly primitive, -- almost, perhaps, ascetic. We carry happiness into our condition, but must not hope to find it there. I think you will be willing to hear some lines which embody the subdued and limited desires of my maturity." (p. 157) Back to Line
21] Plenipo: Minister plenipotentiary. Back to Line
22] The Court of St. James, where foreign diplomats are accredited. Back to Line
24] Gubernator: Governor. Back to Line
34] Cashmere: fine wool from Kashmir in northern India. Back to Line
35] marrowy crapes: most choice examples of this light wrinkled fabric. Back to Line
44] Titians: paintings by Tiziano Vecellio (1477-1576), an Italian master.
Raphaels: paintings by Raffaeloo Santi (1483-1520), an Italian master. Back to Line
46] Turners: paintings by the Romantic English master, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851). Back to Line
59] Stradivarius: violins by the Italian maker, Antonius Stradivarius (1644-1737). Back to Line
60] Meerschaums: tobacco pipes made of sepiolite, a clay-like substance (not a person). Back to Line
64] buhl: boulle, after André Charles Boulle, a French craftsman who inlaid tortoiseshell and yellow and white metal in his cabinets. Back to Line
68] Midas: Phrygian king of classical myth whose desire for gold was granted by means of his touch, which turned everything into gold. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1858
Publication Notes: 
The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858)
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.
Rhyme: