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The Last Leaf Analysis

Author: Poetry of Oliver Wendell Holmes Type: Poetry Views: 1103

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I saw him once before,

As he passed by the door,

And again

The pavement stones resound,

As he totters o'er the ground

With his cane.

They say that in his prime,

Ere the pruning-knife of Time

Cut him down,

Not a better man was found

By the Crier on his round

Through the town.

But now he walks the streets,

And he looks at all he meets

Sad and wan,

And he shakes his feeble head,

That it seems as if he said,

"They are gone!"

The mossy marbles rest

On the lips that he has prest

In their bloom,

And the names he loved to hear

Have been carved for many a year

On the tomb.

My grandmamma has said--

Poor old lady, she is dead

Long ago--

That he had a Roman nose,

And his cheek was like a rose

In the snow;

But now his nose is thin,

And it rests upon his chin

Like a staff,

And a crook is in his back,

And a melancholy crack

In his laugh.

I know it is a sin

For me to sit and grin

At him here;

But the old three-cornered hat,

And the breeches, and all that,

Are so queer!

And if I should live to be

The last leaf upon the tree

In the spring,

Let them smile, as I do now,

At the old forsaken bough

Where I cling.


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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

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The stunning Romanesque-Revival building with huge arch, just north of Harvard Yard, is Austin Hall, the first law-school building in America, built 1882 by Henry Hobson Richardson, who had designed Trinity Church in the Back Bay five years earlier. Note Richardson's characteristic use of playful, multi-colored sandstones. Inside, you’ll see stunning woodwork inside America’s oldest law classrooms, and an impressive Ames courtroom, home of moot-court trials.
Also significant is what you can no longer see here: the many historic houses that, over three centuries, were razed…built in 1636, 1642, 1681, 1682, 1715, 1740, 1849…all demolished. This once-pleasant little neighborhood, now featuring unsightly open parking lots, was called ‘Holmes Place’, after Rev. Abiel Holmes, minister of First Church, Cambridge from 1792-1831...until his congregation decided it really preferred a more-modern Unitarian, instead of an old-fashioned Trinitarian, minister. A 1783 graduate of Yale, Rev. Mr. Holmes married Mary Stiles, daughter of Yale’s president, Ezra Stiles…later writing a loving biography of his father-in-law.
Rev. Holmes’ second marriage, in 1795, was to Sarah Wendell, daughter of Oliver Wendell, 1733-1818. {Oliver Wendell was the son of both an Oliver and a Wendell: his mother was Mary Oliver, and his father, Jacob Wendell, a real-estate developer and a Colonel of the pre-Revolutionary Militia. Oliver Wendell became Judge of Suffolk Probate Court and a member of the Harvard Corporation, and became Rev. Holmes’ father-in-law.
In 1807, Oliver Wendell bought, for his large extended-family household, a 47-year-old house, built 1740. In 1809, Oliver Wendell Holmes (Senior) was born here…destined to become dean of Harvard Medical School and a renowned author of both prose and poetry. Oliver Wendell Holmes (Junior) was also born in this house 32 years later…growing up to became Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court…and then, a notable Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. What a family!
But Edward Austin, who had given the money for ‘Austin Hall’ to Harvard, felt Holmes’ adjacent colonial-style 1740 house looked rather queer near the rear of his 1882 Victorian showpiece; so, in 1884, he gave still more money to Harvard …to have the Holmes’ house torn down! There were no historic-preservation restrictions in Camb
ridge back then…as there, fortunately, now are.
Only a few pre-demolition images of Holmes House survive, including a photograph from just before its demolition, showing the rear of Austin Hall in the background. And there's an older, 1875 watercolor that was included in a little booklet, “Homes of Our Favorite Poets”.

Amazingly, the house Holmes purchased for this family was the same place where, 100 years earlier, General Artemus Ward, First Commander of the Patriot forces (before Washington's arrival in Cambridge) and his staff had planned their campaign to capture Bunker Hill ! In that earlier era, the house had belonged to an active Patriot, Jonathan Hastings, steward of Harvard College for three decades. This structure, significant in warfare, college management, and poetry, has none of its amazing history referenced in the physical mementos that survive. But the deep meaning of this home still lives on in Oliver Wendell Holmes (Senior)’s still-published prose and poetry:
“Where we love is home: home that our feet may leave…but not our hearts.”
Holmes’ famous poem ‘The Last Leaf’ tells the story of one of the last Patriots to survive, Thomas Melvill, a 1769 graduate of Princeton. Melvill had witnessed the Boston Massacre, helped throw tea overboard at the 1773 Boston Tea Party, became a major in the Revolutionary War, afterwards the Naval Officer of the Port of Boston…and, long after his death in 1832, the grandfather of Herman Melville.
Melvill loved to walk down Holmes Place. still proudly wearing long-outmoded colonial garb as late as 1831, when Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote this poem. (You can still see Melville’s stern portrait, his tricolor hat, and his boots, inside which fragments of tea were found, at Boston’s Old State House.)
Here's an excerpt:
“I know it is a sin
for me to sit and grin
at him here;
but the old three-corner hat
and the breeches and all that
are so queer!
And if I should live to be
the last leaf upon the tree
in the spring:
Let them smile, as I do now,
at the old forsaken x probably know the even-earlier history behind his beloved ‘forsaken bough’, the house his grandfather had bought for the family in : that very old house was actually a replacement for a still-older house, built 1642, then demolished and replaced by Patriot Jonathan Hastings in 1740…35 years before it became so useful for drawing up the Bunker Hill battle plans. Holmes’ powerful intuition that both trees and houses can be deciduous proved to be painfully prescient. In his old age, his children sold the old house in 1883 to Harvard, which demolished it the next year…ten years before Holmes; own death at age 93. The ‘old branch’ he’d clung to is now a parking lot. But, fortunately, some words it inspired endure for you.
Holmes’ most famous poem, as you probably know, was ‘Old Ironsides’, credited with rescuing the country’s oldest warship from destruction. (Google the title, if you’d like to read his stirring 1830 text.) Or better yet: Board the old sailing ship that Holmes saved, after reading his poem nearby, at the U.S.S. Constitution Museum, beside the Boston Navy Yard in Charlestown.
[Excerpted from "A Little Historical Walk North of Harvard Yard" (c) Fred Meyer, 2017.
All rights reserved; reprinted here by permission.]
Fred x

| Posted on 2017-07-14 | by a guest

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This poem signifies the reality of life that many turn away from.For life no matter how good and great it is fades away as time passes and with it your love ones are left no more the older you live.God states it best "All flesh is like grass and the glory of men like the flower of the grass, the grass withers and the flower falls away but the word of the Lord endures forever."The old man is lonely and sad but if he had his hope in the Lord Jesus he wouldn't feel this way.

| Posted on 2016-11-09 | by a guest

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The narrator explain of its view of an old person ,his expressing how the young person thought about the elder peoples,its like judging the old man on physical form.But the old man on that poem is sad as he walk lonely on pavement as he has no one assisting him.As in the background of him,it has a tree with 2 leaves left(this symbolized that the life of the old man,s aging until pastaway)
(Those who said "blahblahblahblah" are stupid..)

| Posted on 2015-01-12 | by a guest

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Holmes uses many examples of nature in the poem, which seems to be the case in many poems that are part of romantacism.. Great poem

| Posted on 2014-11-16 | by a guest

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blah blah blah:)
blah blah blah boom boom :
yep write this is the real story

| Posted on 2012-02-06 | by a guest

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Well blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah

| Posted on 2011-02-14 | by a guest

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The last leaf is about an old man that already lose his friends \'cause their time had already came and that man was left like the last leaf on the tree.And Oliver Wendell Holmes compares himself to that man.If he will be like him,he want to see the other smiling than to be alone and left behind.

| Posted on 2010-11-14 | by a guest

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This poem is about a man who walks through life alone. He is the last of his kind because he has outlived his generation. He stands out because he wears the same clothes that were in style when he was younger. The author \"sits and grins\" because this man is out of place, but he also portrays a good deal of respect for the man, speaking about what he had once been. The author concludes by saying that if he were to be the \"last leaf upon the tree,
In the spring,
Let them smile, as I do now,\"

| Posted on 2010-11-10 | by a guest

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Major Thomas Melvill, an honored survivor of the Boston Tea Party who refused to change the style of his clothing or manners to fit the times, was depicted in Oliver Wendell Holmes's poem "The Last Leaf".
Hre also happens to have been herman Melvill(e)s x

| Posted on 2010-07-04 | by a guest

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The poem is about one Major Thomas Melville, who was one of the "indians" of the famous Boston Tea Party. Holmes uses "the last leaf" metaphor to show how Melville was still alive and proud in a time much past his own. I also think it is a tribute of respect to the old man. Holmes' last lines show that Holmes himself would want to be remembered much the same way if he ever reached an age where he could be considered "the last leaf / in Spring"...

| Posted on 2010-05-17 | by a guest

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ahh ok i think that's it..
the poem signifies the importance of the elders: giving care, love, and support to them.

| Posted on 2010-01-25 | by a guest

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I think the author is saying that the man in the poem is the last leaf on his family tree. And he doesn't have many other loved ones left.

| Posted on 2009-11-05 | by a guest

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some of his friends are already dead and he is the only one who is alive.

| Posted on 2009-01-29 | by a guest

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Oliver Wendell Holmes uses this older man as a relic of the season. He has held on to be the last of this generation that have all fallen before him, but he still holds stubbornly to life like the "last leaf" on a tree in spring time. He is out of place; a withered discolored leaf among thriving new buds.

Similies used ny Holmes are:
A.) The man's cheek was like a "rose in the snow" this could mean threee things.
1.)Roses are red amd signify passion. This would be the passion of youth in contrast to the show. Snow being the current wan(pale)demeanor of the old man.
2.) It could represent the nature of youth. It will fade. A rose set in the snow can do nothing but wither away.
3.) OR on a different tangent, the one I lean toward, it could be a symbol of perseverance. This man shouldn't still be here, much like a rose should not sitll be thriving in the snow.
B.) The man's nose is "like a staff"
1.)This is a reflection on his WHOLE self through just his nose.
2.)Staff brings to mind cane. Cane transcends to instability and weakness. In the case a the staff instability in walking, but symbolically it is just weak in a general form. Men lean on staffs to help them stand.

Metaphors used:
A.)Time is a prunning knife. It cuts away selectively, choosing what to shape and what not to. I preffer carving knife. Prunning is like fine tuning to yield a more prolific outcome. Carving is slowly whittling away, such is life.
B.)The man is the "Last leaf in the spring".. Every one else has already past. The man is faded and weak, but still hangs on (why I like the third interpretation of the rose in snow similie the most).

The old man's stubborn battle to cling to the tree is an inspiration to the speaker to cling to the tree and aspire to someday be that "last leaf in the spring".

| Posted on 2005-12-07 | by Approved Guest

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