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   English Poetry III: From Tennyson to Whitman.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
804. Contentment
 
Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)
 
 
‘Man wants but little here below.’


LITTLE I ask; my wants are few;
  I only wish a hut of stone
(A very plain brown stone will do)
  That I may call my own;—
And close at hand is such a one,        5
In yonder street that fronts the sun.
 
Plain food is quite enough for me;
  Three courses are as good as ten;—
If Nature can subsist on three,
  Thank Heaven for three. Amen!        10
I always thought cold victual nice;—
My choice would be vanilla-ice.
 
I care not much for gold or land;—
  Give me a mortgage here and there,—
Some good bank-stock, some note of hand,        15
  Or trifling railroad share,—
I only ask that Fortune send
A little more than I shall spend.
 
Honors are silly toys, I know,
  And titles are but empty names;        20
I would, perhaps, be Plenipo,—
  But only near St. James;
I’m very sure I should not care
To fill our Gubernator’s chair.
 
Jewels are baubles; ’tis a sin        25
  To care for such unfruitful things;—
One good-sized diamond in a pin,—
  Some, not so large, in rings,—
A ruby, and a pearl, or so,
Will do for me;—I laugh at show.        30
 
My dame should dress in cheap attire
  (Good, heavy silks are never dear);—
I own perhaps I might desire
  Some shawls of true Cashmere,—
Some marrowy crapes of China silk,        35
Like wrinkled skins on scalded milk.
 
I would not have the horse I drive
  So fast that folks must stop and stare;
An easy gait—two forty-five—
  Suits me; I do not care;—        40
Perhaps, for just a single spurt,
Some seconds less would do no hurt.
 
Of pictures, I should like to own
  Titians and Raphaels three or four,—
I love so much their style and tone,        45
  One Turner, and no more
(A landscape,—foreground golden dirt,—
The sunshine painted with a squirt).
 
Of books but few,—some fifty score
  For daily use, and bound for wear;        50
The rest upon an upper floor;—
  Some little luxury there
Of red morocco’s gilded gleam
And vellum rich as country cream.
 
Busts, cameos, gems,—such things as these,        55
  Which others often show for pride,
I value for their power to please,
  And selfish churls deride;—
One Stradivarius, I confess,
Two Meerschaums, I would fain possess.        60
 
Wealth’s wasteful tricks I will not learn,
  Nor ape the glittering upstart fool;—
Shall not carved tables serve my turn,
  But all must be of buhl?
Give grasping pomp its double share,—        65
I ask but one recumbent chair.
 
Thus humble let me live and die,
  Nor long for Midas’ golden touch;
If Heaven more generous gifts deny,
  I shall not miss them much,        70
Too grateful for the blessing lent
Of simple tastes and mind content!
 

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