'The Last Leaf' by Oliver Wendell Holmes

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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.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Last Leaf by Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Masterpiece of Poetic Expression

Have you ever sat in a quiet room, staring out the window as the leaves rustle in the wind, and pondered the fleeting nature of life? Do you ever wonder about the beauty and fragility of existence, and the small things that make it worth living? If so, then you will appreciate the timeless masterpiece that is "The Last Leaf" by Oliver Wendell Holmes. This poem captures the essence of human emotion and experience in a way that few others can match. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve deep into the themes, symbolism, and imagery of this remarkable work of art.

Background and Context

Before we dive into the poem itself, it is important to understand the historical and cultural context in which it was written. Oliver Wendell Holmes was a prominent American poet, essayist, and physician who lived in the 19th century. He was a member of the prestigious literary circle known as the Fireside Poets, who were known for their formal style and patriotic themes. "The Last Leaf" was written in 1831, during a time of great social change and upheaval in America. The country was still recovering from the War of 1812, and there was a growing sense of national identity and pride. At the same time, there was also a renewed interest in the arts and literature, as people sought to express their individuality and creativity.


At its core, "The Last Leaf" is a poem about the fragility of life and the power of hope. The central theme is the idea that even in the face of death and despair, there is always something to cling to. The poem explores this theme through a series of vivid and poignant images, each of which adds to the overall emotional impact of the work.

One of the key images in the poem is that of the "last leaf". This symbolizes the final moments of life, the point at which everything seems to be slipping away. However, even in this moment of despair, there is still hope. The last leaf represents the idea that there is always something left to hold onto, even when everything else has fallen away.

Another important theme in the poem is the power of human connection. The characters in the poem are all connected in some way, whether through friendship, family, or simply living in the same building. This connection gives them strength and helps them to endure even in the most difficult of times. The poem celebrates the beauty and resilience of human relationships, and reminds us of the importance of community and support.

Symbolism and Imagery

"The Last Leaf" is a masterclass in the use of symbolism and imagery to convey complex emotional ideas. The poem is filled with vivid and evocative images, each of which has its own meaning and significance.

One of the most striking images in the poem is that of the ivy vine. This plant represents the idea of resilience and endurance, as it is able to cling to walls and survive even the harshest of conditions. The ivy vine serves as a symbol of hope and perseverance, reminding us that even in the darkest of times, there is always something to hold onto.

Another important image in the poem is that of the "old Bohemian". This character represents the idea of artistic expression and creativity, and serves as a reminder of the importance of beauty and culture in our lives. The Bohemian's art is a source of inspiration and hope for the other characters in the poem, and his presence serves as a reminder of the value of art and literature in our society.

Structure and Form

"The Last Leaf" is written in a classic ballad form, with a simple ABAB rhyme scheme and a regular meter. This formal structure serves to give the poem a timeless quality, and helps to emphasize the emotional impact of the words. The poem is divided into four stanzas, each of which contains four lines. This creates a sense of symmetry and balance, which adds to the overall harmony and beauty of the work.


In conclusion, "The Last Leaf" is a masterpiece of poetic expression that speaks to the very essence of human experience. Through its vivid imagery, powerful symbolism, and timeless themes, this poem reminds us of the fragility of life, the power of hope, and the importance of human connection. It is a work of art that has stood the test of time, and will continue to inspire and move readers for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Last Leaf: An Analysis of Oliver Wendell Holmes' Classic Poetry

Oliver Wendell Holmes' "The Last Leaf" is a classic poem that has been cherished by readers for generations. It is a beautiful and poignant piece of literature that explores themes of mortality, hope, and the power of art. In this analysis, we will delve deeper into the poem's meaning and significance, examining its structure, language, and symbolism.

The poem begins with a description of a dreary autumn day, with the leaves falling from the trees and the wind blowing cold. The speaker, who is not identified, is looking out of his window and observing the scene. He notices that one solitary leaf remains on a tree outside his window, and he becomes fixated on it. He watches as the leaf clings to the tree, despite the wind and rain, and he marvels at its tenacity.

The speaker then shifts his focus to his neighbor, an old man who is also watching the leaf. The old man is sick and frail, and the speaker fears that he may not survive the winter. The old man tells the speaker that he has been counting the leaves on the tree, and that he will die when the last leaf falls. The speaker is moved by the old man's words, and he becomes determined to save him.

The poem then takes a turn, as the speaker reveals that he and his friend are artists, and that they have been working on a painting together. The painting is of a vine that grows outside their window, and the old man has been watching it as well. The speaker realizes that the old man's life is tied to the vine, just as he believes it is tied to the last leaf on the tree. He decides to paint a leaf on the wall, in the spot where the last leaf would fall, in order to give the old man hope and strength.

The poem ends with the old man recovering from his illness, and the speaker realizing that the last leaf on the tree has not fallen after all. He is struck by the power of art to inspire and heal, and he marvels at the resilience of the human spirit.


"The Last Leaf" is a short poem, consisting of only 24 lines. It is written in free verse, with no set rhyme scheme or meter. This gives the poem a natural and conversational tone, which makes it easy to read and understand. The lack of a strict structure also allows the poem to flow freely, giving the reader a sense of the speaker's thoughts and emotions.


Holmes' use of language in "The Last Leaf" is simple and direct, yet powerful. He uses vivid imagery to paint a picture of the autumn day, with its falling leaves and cold wind. He also uses metaphors and symbolism to convey deeper meanings. For example, the last leaf on the tree represents the old man's life, and the vine represents the connection between the two friends. The painting of the leaf on the wall is a symbol of hope and resilience, and it shows the power of art to inspire and heal.


Symbolism is a key element of "The Last Leaf." The last leaf on the tree is a symbol of the old man's life, and it represents his tenacity and will to survive. The vine outside the window is a symbol of the connection between the two friends, and it represents the power of human relationships to sustain us in difficult times. The painting of the leaf on the wall is a symbol of hope and resilience, and it shows the power of art to inspire and heal.


The themes of "The Last Leaf" are universal and timeless. The poem explores the themes of mortality, hope, and the power of art. It shows us that even in the face of death and despair, there is always hope, and that art can inspire us to overcome our struggles. The poem also reminds us of the importance of human relationships, and the power of friendship to sustain us in difficult times.


In conclusion, Oliver Wendell Holmes' "The Last Leaf" is a beautiful and poignant poem that explores themes of mortality, hope, and the power of art. Its simple language and structure make it easy to read and understand, while its vivid imagery and symbolism give it depth and meaning. The poem reminds us of the resilience of the human spirit, and the power of art and friendship to inspire and heal. It is a timeless piece of literature that will continue to be cherished by readers for generations to come.

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