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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Bill and Joe

By Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)

COME, dear old comrade, you and I

Will steal an hour from days gone by,

The shining days when life was new,

And all was bright with morning dew,—

The lusty days of long ago,

When you were Bill and I was Joe.

Your name may flaunt a titled trail

Proud as a cockerel’s rainbow tail,

And mine as brief appendix wear

As Tarn O’Shanter’s luckless mare:

To-day, old friend, remember still

That I am Joe and you are Bill.

You’ve won the great world’s envied prize,

And grand you look in people’s eyes,

With H-O-N. and L-L.-D.,

In big brave letters, fair to see:

Your fist, old fellow! off they go!—

How are you, Bill? How are you, Joe?

You’ve worn the judge’s ermined robe;

You’ve taught your name to half the globe;

You’ve sung mankind a deathless strain;

You’ve made the dead past live again:

The world may call you what it will,

But you and I are Joe and Bill.

The chaffing young folks stare, and say,

“See those old buffers, bent and gray,—

They talk like fellows in their teens!

Mad, poor old boys! That’s what it means,”

And shake their heads: they little know

The throbbing hearts of Bill and Joe!—

How Bill forgets his hour of pride,

While Joe sits smiling at his side;

How Joe, in spite of time’s disguise,

Finds the old schoolmate in his eyes,—

Those calm, stern eyes that melt and fill

As Joe looks fondly up at Bill.

Ah, pensive scholar, what is fame?

A fitful tongue of leaping flame;

A giddy whirlwind’s fickle gust,

That lifts a pinch of mortal dust:

A few swift years, and who can show

Which dust was Bill and which was Joe?

The weary idol takes his stand,

Holds out his bruised and aching hand,

While gaping thousands come and go,—

How vain it seems, this empty show!

Till all at once his pulses thrill;—

’Tis poor old Joe’s “God bless you, Bill!”

And shall we breathe in happier spheres

The names that pleased our mortal ears,—

In some sweet lull of harp and song

For earth-born spirits none too long,

Just whispering of the world below

Where this was Bill and that was Joe?

No matter: while our home is here

No sounding name is half so dear;

When fades at length our lingering day,

Who cares what pompous tombstones say?

Read on the hearts that love us still,

Hic jacet Joe. Hic jacet Bill.