on August 29, 1809, Oliver Wendell Holmes epitomized duality. He was an
influential physician and a well-regarded poet. A medical reformer, he
was one of the first to identify puerperal fever as a communicable
disease. He also spoke out against astrology and homeopathy as not
being sciences. Perhaps as a bridge between his two great devotions, he
coined the term “anesthesia,” having methodically studied the
condition and poetically creating the term. He was also the father of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr,
Associate Justice of the American Supreme Court.
This is one of his better known poems, one to which we can all relate.
Savor it and extend your best wishes for a happy 200th birthday to
Oliver Wendell Holmes!
By Oliver Wendell Holmes
(originally published in 1890; republished in The Complete Poetical Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1895)
If all the trees in all the woods were men;
And each and every blade of grass a pen;
If every leaf on every shrub and tree
Turned to a sheet of foolscap; every sea
Were changed to ink, and all earth’s living tribes
Had nothing else to do but act as scribes,
And for ten thousand ages, day and night,
The human race should write, and write, and write,
Till all the pens and paper were used up,
And the huge inkstand was an empty cup,
Still would the scribblers clustered round its brink
Call for more pens, more paper, and more ink.