Home  »  A Dictionary of Similes  »  Oliver Wendell Holmes

Frank J. Wilstach, comp. A Dictionary of Similes. 1916.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Beaming as the summer’s morn.

Bedraggled, like the flounce of a vulgar rich woman’s dress that trails on the sidewalk.

His tail extended all the while
Behind him like a rat-tail file.

Cherished beliefs are like those drinking glasses of the ancient pattern, that serve us all so long as we keep them in our hand, but spill all if we attempt to set them down.

Bend in the blast as blade of grass.

The bigot is like the pupil of the eye; the more light you put upon it, the more it will contract.

Blooms like a bower in the garden of Bliss.

Blushed like blood.

Bobbing like a quill-float with a “minnum” biting at the hook below.

Breathing sweetness like a bridal bower.

As sunset clouds in heaven.

Bright as the jewels of the seven-starr’d crown.

As the resplendent cactus of the night
That floods the gloom with fragrance and with light.

Calm as the patient planet’s gleam
That walks the clouded skies.

A sound brain should always evolve the same fixed product with the certainty of Babbage’s calculating machine.

Loving eyes that gleam
Clear as a starlit mountain stream.

Cling … like the spokes of a wheel.

Cold as the coiling water-snake.

As common as the power of moving the ears voluntarily, which is a moderately rare endowment.

Complexion clear and warm, like rose-cordial.

Talk about conceit as much as you like, it is to human character what salt is to the ocean; it keeps it sweet and renders it endurable. Say rather it is like natural unguent of the sea fowl’s plumage, which enables him to shed the rain that falls on him and the waves in which he dips. When one has had all his conceit taken out of him, when he has lost all his illusions, his feathers will soon soak through, and he will fly no more.

Conceit is just as natural a thing to human minds as a centre is to a circle.

I have sometimes compared conversations to the Italian game of Moral in which one player lifts his hand with so many fingers extended, and the other matches or misses the number, as the case may be, with his own. I show my thought, another his; if they agree, well; if they differ, we find the largest common factor, if we can, but at any rate avoid disputing about remainders and fractions, which is to real talk what tuning an instrument is to playing on it.

Cool as a moonbeam on a frozen brook.

Dead as the bulrushes round little Moses,
On the old banks of the Nile.

As different … as a sigh from the southwest is from the northeastern breeze.

Dimpled as a baby.

Drifts on the blast, like a wind-wafted leaf,
O’er the gulfs of the desolate sea.

Drifting like a flake of fire
Rent by a whirlwind from a blazing spire.

The blood dropped out of her cheeks as the mercury drops from a broken barometer-tube, and she melted away from her seat as an image of snow.

Dry as the shell on the sand.

Easy as forgetting oaths.

The lack-lustre eye, rayless as a Beacon street door-plate in August.

An eye as clear and steady as the evening star.

As fabulous as Aladdin’s ring.

Faded like a dream of youth.

Faded … like dew upon the sea.

Fade like the roseate flush, the golden glow,
When the bright curtain of the day is rolled.

Fade unspoken,
Like daffodils that die with sheaths unbroken.

Like a leaf that quits the bough,
The mortal vesture falls.

Fast as the rolling seasons bring
The hour of fate to those we love.

Fear, like spare diet, starves the fevers of lust and quenches the flames of hell.

Fickle as a female in hysterics.

Firm as the band that clasps the antlered spoil.

Firm as the rooted mountain rock.

Fit like Sunday shoes.

Flat as a rose that has long been pressed.

Fled like a felon.

Fluttering like new-mown hay.

A headlong crowd is flying
Like a billow that has broken and is shivered into spray.

Like the cannons that burst on the Fourth of July.

Folded like a wave.

Fragrant as the breath of angels.

Frail as the web that misty night has spun.

Fresh as the breeze blowing over the heather.

Fresh as the dews of our prime.

Like a morning mist it gathered.

Gay as bridal bowers with vows of many-petalled maids.

The advent of genius is like what the florists style the breaking of a seedling tulip into what we may call high-caste colors…. It is a surprise—there is nothing to account for it.

Gleams like a diamond on a dancing girl.

Like phantoms painted on the magic slide,
Forth from the darkness of the past we glide,
As living shadows for a moment seen
In airy pageant on the eternal screen.

Glimmering, like the balance-pan
That weighs its guinea as he weighs his man.

Glow like a queen’s missal.

Glowed like the morn beneath Aurora’s wings.

Gone, like the tenants that quit without warning,
Down the back entry of time.

As hard as the heart of a religious foe-curser.

Heats like the hammered anvil.

As holy, as the symbol that we lay on the still bosom of our white-robed dead.

Cheeks hueless as a brandy-peach.

Humbly, like a praying nun.

Hungry as the chap that said a turkey was too much for one, not enough for two.

Impends, like a crag over the brow of a lofty precipice.

Important as the linch-pin.

Kindling like a Christmas feaster
When some wild chorus shakes the vinous air.

Laughter and tears are meant to turn the same machinery of sensibility; one is wind-power, and the other water-power: that is all.

Leads the passions, like the orb that guides,
From pole to pole, the palpitating tides.

A new lecture is like any new tool. We use it for a while with pleasure. Then it blisters our hands and we hate to touch it. By-and-by our hands get callous, and then we no longer have any sensitiveness about it. But if we give it up the callouses disappear; and if we meddle with it again, we miss the novelty and get the blisters.

His back as limber as a canker worm’s.

I am lingering yet, as sometimes in the blaze of day
A milk-and-watery moon
Stains with its dim and fading ray
The lustrous blue of noon.

Lively as a squirrel.

Lips as livid as the opening lilac-leaves.

London is like a shelled corn-cob on the Derby day.

Loose as Cossack pantaloons.

Lost, like the lightning in
The sullen cloud.

Loud as the storm-wind that tumbles the main.

Loyal as the Liberty on a golden ten-dollar piece.

Lucid as a Japanese sphere of rock-crystal.

Men, like peaches and pears, grow sweet a little while before they begin to decay.

Melted like an image of snow.

Mild as moonbeams crazed with murderous hates.

Naked as a peeled apple.

Natural as primping at a looking-glass.

Noisy as a kettle-drum.

Wide open like the church portals when the bride and bridgeroom enter.

Packed like the leaves in a closed book.

Patterings like an April’s rain.

Plain as the record on the prophet’s scroll.

As plain as a hole in a grindstone.

Poets, like painters, their machinery claim,
And verse bestows the varnish and the frame.

Puff like a paragraph praising a pill.

People that make puns are like wanton boys that put coppers on the railroad tracks. They amuse themselves and other children but their little trick may upset a freight train of conversation for the sake of a battered witticism.

Pure as the dew that filters through the rose.

Pure as the quarry’s whitest block.

The lack-lustre eye, rayless as a Beacon-street door-plate in August.

Reel like masts on ocean’s swell.

Beneath his glance the strong-knit joints relax
As the weak knees before the headsman’s axe.

Remorselessly as the ocean moves in upon the shore.

Tender and reverential … as a nun over her missal.

Sad as the gust that sweeps the clouded sky.

Scattered all along, like emptied seashells on the sand.

Scattered …
As leaves when wild winds blow.

She scatters the spray as the chaff in the stroke of the flail.

Scornful as spirit fallen, its own tormentor.

Seedy as a caraway umbrel late in the season.

Shone like the evening star.

Shot like a bullet from a gun.

Shouted and laughed, like a school full of boys from their benches set free.

Shrivels like a scroll.

A silence like that of dreams.

Silence, like a poultice, comes
To heal the blows of sound.

Silent as midnight’s falling meteor slides into the stillness of the far-off land.

Simmer like a sea pent volcano.

Slow, like the tired heaving of a grief-worn breast.

Slowly, as when walking-beam first feels the gathering bead of steam.

Slumber like the leaves of a lily at nightfall.

Smack like a tight cork from a bottle.

Smiles as thick on rosy lips as ripples on the sea.

Smooth as the pond can be.

Society as cold as the glacier of an unsunned cavern.

Soft as rain.

As soft as swan’s down.

Soft as the moonbeams when they sought Endymion’s fragrant bower.

A good soldier, like a good horse, cannot be of a bad color.

Sparkling and roseate as the dewy fingers of Aurora.

Spry as the chaff in the stroke of the flail.

Stained, like meerschaum, through and through.

Stamp themselves upon his consciousness as the signet on soft wax.

As if our footsteps had begun
To print the golden streets already!

Stuck together like a sheet of buns.

Streamed o’er his memory like a forest’s flame.

Strewed like the leaves that vanish in the soil.

Sweet as the breath from an odalisque’s fan.

Sweet as the dawn star.

Sweet as the first snow-drop, which the sunbeams greet.

Swollen as the cheeks of jubilant cherubim.

Talking is like playing on the harp; there is as much in laying the hand on the strings to stop a vibration as in twanging them to bring out their music.

Writing or printing is like shooting with a rifle; you may hit your reader’s mind or miss it;—but talking is like playing at a mark with the pipe of an engine; if it is within reach, and you have time enough, you can’t help hitting it.

There are men of esprit who are excessively exhausting to some people. They are the talkers that have what may be called jerky minds. Their thoughts do not run in the natural order of sequence. They say bright things on all possible subjects, but their zigzags rack you to death. After a jolting half-hour with one of these jerky companions, talking with a dull friend affords great relief. It is like taking the cat in your lap after holding a squirrel.

Tapering like a lizard’s tail.

Tearful and trembling as a dewy rose
The wind has shaken till it fills the air
With light and fragrance.

Some kinds of thoughts breed in the dark of one’s mind like the blind fishes in the Mammoth cave. We can’t see them and they can’t see us; but sooner or later the daylight gets in and we find that some cold, fishy little negative has been sprawling all over our beliefs, and the brood of blind questions it has given birth to are burrowing round and under and butting their blunt notes against the pillars of faith we thought the whole world might lean on.

Memories thrill,
Like a breath from the wood, like a breeze from the hill.

Trembling as the dewy rose the wind has shaken.

True as the dial’s shadow to the beam.

Unchanging as the belt Orion wears.

Like the rattlesnake’s shrill warning the reverberating drum.

Like daffodils that die with sheaths unbroken.

Vain your feeble cry,
As the babe’s wailings to the thundering sky.

Vast as Phœbus on his burning wheels.

Idly wait
Like lovers at the swinging gate.

Warm as if the brush
Of Titian or Velasquez brought the flush
Of life into their features.

As the drained fountain, filled with autumn leaves,
The field swept naked of its garnered sheaves;
So wastes at noon the promise of our dawn,
The springs all choking, and the harvest gone.

Weigh like the shillings on a dead man’s eyes.

Whirl along, like pebbles in a stream.

White as sea-bleached shells.

White as the sea-gull.

Women, with their tongues,
Like polar needles, ever on the jar.

Writing or printing is like shooting with a rifle; you may hit your reader’s mind, or miss it;—but talking is like playing at a mark with the pipe of an engine; if it is within reach, and you have time enough, you can’t help hitting it.