Oliver Wendell Holmes

(1809-1894 / United States)

A Poem Served To Order


PHI BETA KAPPA, JUNE 26, 1873

THE Caliph ordered up his cook,
And, scowling with a fearful look
That meant,--We stand no gammon,--
'To-morrow, just at two,' he said,
'Hassan, our cook, will lose his head,
Or serve us up a salmon.'

'Great sire,' the trembling chef replied,
'Lord of the Earth and all beside,
Sun, Moon, and Stars, and so on
(Look in Eothen,-there you'll find
A list of titles. Never mind;
I have n't time to go on

'Great sire,' and so forth, thus he spoke,
'Your Highness must intend a joke;
It doesn't stand to reason
For one to order salmon brought,
Unless that fish is sometimes caught,
And also is in season.

'Our luck of late is shocking bad,
In fact, the latest catch we had
(We kept the matter shady),
But, hauling in our nets,--alack!
We found no salmon, but a sack
That held your honored Lady!'

'Allah is great!' the Caliph said,
'My poor Zuleika, you are dead,
I once took interest in you.'
'Perhaps, my Lord, you'd like to know
We cut the lines and let her go.'
'Allah be praised! Continue.'

'It is n't hard one's hook to bait,
And, squatting down, to watch and wait,
To see the cork go under;
At last suppose you've got your bite,
You twitch away with all your might,--
You've hooked an eel, by thunder!'

The Caliph patted Hassan's head
'Slave, thou hast spoken well,' he said,
'And won thy master's favor.
Yes; since what happened t' other morn
The salmon of the Golden Horn
Might have a doubtful flavor.

'That last remark about the eel
Has also justice that we feel
Quite to our satisfaction.
To-morrow we dispense with fish,
And, for the present, if you wish,
You'll keep your bulbous fraction.'

'Thanks! thanks!' the grateful chef replied,
His nutrient feature showing wide
The gleam of arches dental:
'To cut my head off wouldn't pay,
I find it useful every day,
As well as ornamental.'

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Brothers, I hope you will not fail
To see the moral of my tale
And kindly to receive it.
You know your anniversary pie
Must have its crust, though hard and dry,
And some prefer to leave it.

How oft before these youths were born
I've fished in Fancy's Golden Horn
For what the Muse might send me!
How gayly then I cast the line,
When all the morning sky was mine,
And Hope her flies would lend me!

And now I hear our despot's call,
And come, like Hassan, to the hall,--
If there's a slave, I am one,--
My bait no longer flies, but worms!
I 've caught--Lord bless me! how he squirms!
An eel, and not a salmon!

Submitted: Tuesday, April 06, 2010

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