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Vestigia Quinque Retrorsum
by [?]



Read at the Commencement Dinner of the Alumni of Harvard
University, June 25, 1879.

WHILE fond, sad memories all around us throng,
Silence were sweeter than the sweetest song;
Yet when the leaves are green and heaven is blue,
The choral tribute of the grove is due,
And when the lengthening nights have chilled the skies,
We fain would hear the song-bird ere be flies,
And greet with kindly welcome, even as now,
The lonely minstrel on his leafless bough.

This is our golden year,–its golden day;
Its bridal memories soon must pass away;
Soon shall its dying music cease to ring,
And every year must loose some silver string,
Till the last trembling chords no longer thrill,–
Hands all at rest and hearts forever still.

A few gray heads have joined the forming line;
We hear our summons,–“Class of ‘Twenty-Nine!”
Close on the foremost, and, alas, how few!
Are these “The Boys” our dear old Mother knew?
Sixty brave swimmers. Twenty–something more–
Have passed the stream and reached this frosty shore!

How near the banks these fifty years divide
When memory crosses with a single stride!
‘T is the first year of stern “Old Hickory” ‘s rule
When our good Mother lets us out of school,
Half glad, half sorrowing, it must be confessed,
To leave her quiet lap, her bounteous breast,
Armed with our dainty, ribbon-tied degrees,
Pleased and yet pensive, exiles and A. B.’s.

Look back, O comrades, with your faded eyes,
And see the phantoms as I bid them rise.
Whose smile is that? Its pattern Nature gave,
A sunbeam dancing in a dimpled wave;
KIRKLAND alone such grace from Heaven could win,
His features radiant as the soul within;
That smile would let him through Saint Peter’s gate
While sad-eyed martyrs had to stand and wait.
Here flits mercurial Farrar; standing there,
See mild, benignant, cautious, learned Ware,
And sturdy, patient, faithful, honest Hedge,
Whose grinding logic gave our wits their edge;
Ticknor, with honeyed voice and courtly grace;
And Willard, larynxed like a double bass;
And Channing, with his bland, superior look,
Cool as a moonbeam on a frozen brook,

While the pale student, shivering in his shoes,
Sees from his theme the turgid rhetoric ooze;
And the born soldier, fate decreed to wreak
His martial manhood on a class in Greek,
Popkin! How that explosive name recalls
The grand old Busby of our ancient halls
Such faces looked from Skippon’s grim platoons,
Such figures rode with Ireton’s stout dragoons:
He gave his strength to learning’s gentle charms,
But every accent sounded “Shoulder arms!”

Names,–empty names! Save only here and there
Some white-haired listener, dozing in his chair,
Starts at the sound he often used to hear,
And upward slants his Sunday-sermon ear.
And we–our blooming manhood we regain;
Smiling we join the long Commencement train,
One point first battled in discussion hot,–
Shall we wear gowns? and settled: We will not.
How strange the scene,–that noisy boy-debate
Where embryo-speakers learn to rule the State!
This broad-browed youth, sedate and sober-eyed,
Shall wear the ermined robe at Taney’s side;
And he, the stripling, smooth of face and slight,
Whose slender form scarce intercepts the light,
Shall rule the Bench where Parsons gave the law,
And sphinx-like sat uncouth, majestic Shaw
Ah, many a star has shed its fatal ray
On names we loved–our brothers–where are they?

Nor these alone; our hearts in silence claim
Names not less dear, unsyllabled by fame.

How brief the space! and yet it sweeps us back
Far, far along our new-born history’s track
Five strides like this;–the sachem rules the land;
The Indian wigwams cluster where we stand.