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The Dilemma

Author of work:
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Now, by the blessed Paphian queen,Who heaves the breast of sweet sixteen;By every name I cut on barkBefore my morning star grew dark;By Hymen’s torch, by Cupid’s dart,By all that thrills the beating heart;The bright black eye, the melting blue,—­I cannot choose between the two.
I had a vision in my dreams;—­I saw a row of twenty beams;From every beam a rope was hung,In every rope a lover swung;I asked the hue of every eyeThat bade each luckless lover die;Ten shadowy lips said, heavenly blue,And ten accused the darker hue.
I asked a matron which she deemedWith fairest light of beauty beamed;She answered, some thought both were fair,—­Give her blue eyes and golden hair. I might have liked her judgment well,But, as she spoke, she rung the bell,And all her girls, nor small nor few,Came marching in,—­their eyes were blue.
I asked a maiden; back she flungThe locks that round her forehead hung,And turned her eye, a glorious one,Bright as a diamond in the sun,On me, until beneath its raysI felt as if my hair would blaze;She liked all eyes but eyes of green;She looked at me; what could she mean?
Ah! many lids Love lurks between,Nor heeds the coloring of his screen;And when his random arrows fly,The victim falls, but knows not why. Gaze not upon his shield of jet,The shaft upon the string is set;Look not beneath his azure veil,Though every limb were cased in mail.
Well, both might make a martyr breakThe chain that bound him to the stake;And both, with but a single ray,Can melt our very hearts away;And both, when balanced, hardly seemTo stir the scales, or rock the beam;But that is dearest, all the while,That wears for us the sweetest smile.

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Oliver Wendell Holmes
336 works

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