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THE CHAMBERED NAUTILUS
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES
This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main,
The venturous bark that flings
And coral reefs lie bare,
Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Before thee lies revealed,
Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
Built up its idle door,
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
While on mine ear it rings,
“Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past !
Till thou at length art free,
This is not a zoology lesson; so you won't need to hunt up in reference books all about the nautilus; almost everything that you will need to know for an appreciation of the poem you will find clearly suggested in the various stanzas. The only line likely to cause trouble is the fourteenth. The nautilus shell is spiral, like that of many snails; inside it is divided into chambers, each one of which has in turn been occupied by the nautilus. As the shellfish grows, it makes a new and larger chamber, which it occupies, leaving behind another “sunless crypt,” shut off by a thin partition of shell.
Siren (si-rěn): enchantress.
Questions for Study 1. How would the carcass of the nautilus have appeared to most people? How did it appear to the poet? Why the difference ?
2. How had poets described the living nautilus? What had their fancy added to what they knew!
3. Put into your own words the facts told in the third stanza. Why does the poet express them so differently?
4. How does it happen that Holmes alone heard "the heavenly message"?
5. Consider carefully what the last stanza means. How can one of us leave his low-vaulted past? What are our new temples? How shall we at length be free''?
THE HEAVENS DECLARE THE GLORY OF GOD
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork.
Day unto day uttereth speeeh, and night unto night showeth knowledge.
There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.
His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.
Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults.
Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
RICHARD H. DANA, JR.
Saturday, July 2d, 1836. This day the sun rose fair, but it ran too low in the heavens to give any heat, or thaw out our sails and rigging; yet the sight of it was pleasant; and we had a steady “reef-topsail breeze'' from the westward. The atmosphere, which had previously been clear and cold, for the last few hours grew damp, and had a disagreeable, wet chilliness in it; and the man who came from the wheel said he heard the captain tell “the passenger” that the thermometer had fallen several degrees since morning, which he could not account for in any other way than by supposing that there must be ice near us; though such a thing was rarely heard of in this latitude at this season of the year. At twelve o'clock we went below, and had just got through dinner, when the cook put his head down the scuttle and told us to come on deck and see the finest sight that we had ever seen. “Where away, Doctor?'* asked the first man who was up. “On the larboard bow.” And there lay, floating in the ocean, several miles off, an immense, irregular mass, its top and points covered with snow, and its centre of a deep indigo color.
This was an iceberg, and of the largest size, as one of our men said who had been in the Northern Ocean. As far as the eye could reach, the sea in every direction was of a deep blue color, the waves running high and fresh, and sparkling in the light, and in the midst lay this immense mountain-island, its cavities and valleys thrown into deep shade, and its points and pinnacles glittering in the sun. All hands were soon on deck, looking at it, and admiring in various ways its beauty and
* The cook's title in all vessels.