Verse > Anthologies > Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. > Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry
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Ralph Waldo Emerson, comp. (1803–1882).  Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry.  1880.
 
Rudolph the Headsman
By Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)
 
RUDOLPH, professor of the headsman’s trade,
Alike was famous for his arm and blade.
One day a prisoner Justice had to kill
Knelt at the block to test the artist’s skill.
Bare armed, swart-visaged, gaunt, and shaggy-browed,        5
Rudolph the headsman rose above the crowd.
His falchion lightened with a sudden gleam,
As the pike’s armor flashes in the stream.
He sheathed his blade; he turned as if to go;
The victim knelt, still waiting for the blow.        10
“Why strikest not? Perform thy murderous act,”
The prisoner said. (His voice was slightly cracked.)
“Friend, I have struck,” the artist straight replied;
“Wait but one moment, and yourself decide.”
He held his snuff-box.—“Now then, if you please!”        15
The prisoner sniffed, and, with a crashing sneeze,
Off his head tumbled,—bowled along the floor,—
Bounced down the steps;—the prisoner said no more!
 
 
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