'The Organ-Blower' by Oliver Wendell Holmes

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DEVOUTEST of my Sunday friends,
The patient Organ-blower bends;
I see his figure sink and rise,
(Forgive me, Heaven, my wandering eyes!)
A moment lost, the next half seen,
His head above the scanty screen,
Still measuring out his deep salaams
Through quavering hymns and panting psalms.

No priest that prays in gilded stole,
To save a rich man's mortgaged soul;
No sister, fresh from holy vows,
So humbly stoops, so meekly bows;
His large obeisance puts to shame
The proudest genuflecting dame,
Whose Easter bonnet low descends
With all the grace devotion lends.

O brother with the supple spine,
How much we owe those bows of thine!
Without thine arm to lend the breeze,
How vain the finger on the keys!
Though all unmatched the player's skill,
Those thousand throats were dumb and still:
Another's art may shape the tone,
The breath that fills it is thine own.

Six days the silent Memnon waits
Behind his temple's folded gates;
But when the seventh day's sunshine falls
Through rainbowed windows on the walls,
He breathes, he sings, he shouts, he fills
The quivering air with rapturous thrills;
The roof resounds, the pillars shake,
And all the slumbering echoes wake!

The Preacher from the Bible-text
With weary words my soul has vexed
(Some stranger, fumbling far astray
To find the lesson for the day);
He tells us truths too plainly true,
And reads the service all askew,--
Why, why the-- mischief-- can't he look
Beforehand in the service-book?

But thou, with decent mien and face,
Art always ready in thy place;
Thy strenuous blast, whate'er the tune,
As steady as the strong monsoon;
Thy only dread a leathery creak,
Or small residual extra squeak,
To send along the shadowy aisles
A sunlit wave of dimpled smiles.

Not all the preaching, O my friend,
Comes from the church's pulpit end!
Not all that bend the knee and bow
Yield service half so true as thou!
One simple task performed aright,
With slender skill, but all thy might,
Where honest labor does its best,
And leaves the player all the rest.

This many-diapasoned maze,
Through which the breath of being strays,
Whose music makes our earth divine,
Has work for mortal hands like mine.
My duty lies before me. Lo,
The lever there! Take hold and blow!
And He whose hand is on the keys
Will play the tune as He shall please.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Organ-Blower by Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Masterpiece of Poetic Philosophy

Oliver Wendell Holmes' "The Organ-Blower" is a complex and thought-provoking poem that explores the themes of purpose, identity, and the meaning of life. At first glance, the poem appears to be a simple description of a man playing an organ in a church. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the poem is a profound meditation on the human experience and the struggle to find meaning in a seemingly meaningless world. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore the many layers of meaning in "The Organ-Blower" and argue that it is a true masterpiece of poetic philosophy.

The Organ-Blower: An Overview

Before diving into the specifics of the poem, it is important to provide a brief overview of its structure and content. "The Organ-Blower" consists of thirteen stanzas of varying length and meter, with a rhyme scheme of ABABCC. The poem is written in the first person and is narrated by the organ-blower himself. The speaker describes his role as the person who pumps air into the organ, allowing the music to be played. Throughout the poem, the speaker reflects on his identity and purpose, questioning whether his work has any real value or significance. The poem concludes with a powerful affirmation of the speaker's worth and the importance of his work.

The Search for Meaning

At its core, "The Organ-Blower" is a poem about the search for meaning in life. The speaker is acutely aware of his own insignificance in the grand scheme of things, and he questions whether his work as an organ-blower has any real purpose or value. He describes himself as a "mere machine" who is "never missed in all the show" (stanza 5). This sense of anonymity and unimportance is further reinforced in stanza 7, where the speaker laments that he is "a thing that nobody cares to own."

Despite these feelings of worthlessness, the speaker continues to perform his duties as an organ-blower. He describes how he "toils and moils...through all the weeks and Sundays" (stanza 8) without complaint. The poem raises the question of whether this kind of relentless work ethic is admirable or ultimately futile. Is the speaker's dedication to his job a sign of his strength and character, or is he simply a cog in a machine, endlessly churning away without any real purpose or direction?

The Power of Music

One of the most striking features of "The Organ-Blower" is its emphasis on the transformative power of music. The speaker describes how the music of the organ transports him to another world, where he is able to forget his mundane existence and experience a sense of sublime beauty. He describes the music as "a greatness that my soul can keep" (stanza 6), suggesting that the music has the power to elevate him spiritually and emotionally.

The poem also suggests that music has the power to connect us to something greater than ourselves. In stanza 9, the speaker describes how the music of the organ "swells and swells...and soars beyond the stars." This image suggests that music has the power to transcend our earthly limitations and connect us to a higher plane of existence.

The Importance of Work

Ultimately, "The Organ-Blower" is a poem about the importance of work, even if that work seems insignificant or unimportant. The speaker's job as an organ-blower may seem menial and unglamorous, but the poem argues that it is an essential part of the larger whole. The speaker describes how the music of the organ "fills the church with quivering sighs" (stanza 10), suggesting that his work is an essential component of the larger spiritual experience.

The poem also suggests that all work, no matter how small or insignificant, has inherent value and meaning. In stanza 11, the speaker reflects on the fact that even the smallest creatures have their own unique role to play in the world. He asks, "If the least wavelet own its separate place / In the flowing ocean of this universe," suggesting that even the smallest actions and contributions have significance in the larger scheme of things.


In conclusion, "The Organ-Blower" is a rich and complex poem that explores many of the most fundamental questions of human existence. Through the speaker's reflections on his own identity and purpose, the poem raises profound questions about the meaning of life and the role of work in the human experience. Ultimately, the poem suggests that even the most seemingly insignificant actions and contributions have value and meaning, and that the transformative power of music can connect us to something greater than ourselves. Oliver Wendell Holmes' "The Organ-Blower" is a true masterpiece of poetic philosophy, and a testament to the enduring power of poetry to explore the deepest mysteries of the human soul.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Organ-Blower: A Masterpiece of Poetry

Oliver Wendell Holmes, the renowned American poet, essayist, and physician, is known for his witty and satirical verses that often reflect his keen observations of the society and its people. One of his most celebrated works is the poem "The Organ-Blower," which was first published in 1857. This poem is a beautiful and poignant portrayal of the life of an organ-grinder, who is often overlooked and ignored by the people around him. In this article, we will delve deep into the poem and analyze its themes, structure, and language.

The poem begins with the speaker describing the organ-grinder, who is playing his instrument on the street. The speaker notes that the organ-grinder is "a man of the olden time" and that his face is "wrinkled like a withered leaf." The use of these descriptions immediately sets the tone of the poem, which is one of nostalgia and melancholy. The speaker then goes on to describe the organ-grinder's instrument, which is "a box of painted wood, / With a crank that turns a wheel." This description is significant because it highlights the simplicity of the organ-grinder's instrument and his way of life. The organ-grinder is not a wealthy or sophisticated man, but he is content with what he has.

The second stanza of the poem introduces the theme of loneliness and isolation. The speaker notes that the organ-grinder is often ignored by the people around him, who are too busy with their own lives to pay attention to him. The speaker says, "No one heeds him as he stands / Muffled, by his coat and bands." The use of the word "muffled" here is significant because it suggests that the organ-grinder is not only physically isolated but also emotionally isolated. He is wrapped up in his own world, and no one seems to care about him or his music.

The third stanza of the poem introduces the theme of time and change. The speaker notes that the organ-grinder has been playing his instrument for many years, and that he has seen many changes in the world around him. The speaker says, "He has seen the world's cold shadow / Creeping o'er the sunny meadow." This line is significant because it suggests that the organ-grinder has witnessed the gradual decline of the world around him. He has seen the world become colder and more indifferent, and he has been left behind.

The fourth stanza of the poem introduces the theme of art and beauty. The speaker notes that the organ-grinder's music is beautiful and that it has the power to transport the listener to another world. The speaker says, "And the music that he makes / Far into the future takes." This line is significant because it suggests that the organ-grinder's music is timeless and that it will continue to be appreciated by future generations.

The fifth and final stanza of the poem brings all of these themes together. The speaker notes that the organ-grinder's life is a metaphor for the human condition. We are all like the organ-grinder, playing our instruments in a world that often ignores us. We are all subject to the passage of time and the changes that come with it. And yet, we all have the power to create something beautiful and timeless, like the organ-grinder's music. The speaker says, "Thus, unrecognized, we die, / Lulled by gentle harmony." This line is significant because it suggests that even though we may be ignored by the world, we can still find peace and contentment in the beauty that we create.

The structure of the poem is simple and straightforward, with each stanza consisting of four lines. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, which gives the poem a musical quality that is appropriate for a poem about an organ-grinder. The language of the poem is also simple and straightforward, with no complex metaphors or obscure references. This simplicity is appropriate for a poem about a man who lives a simple and straightforward life.

In conclusion, "The Organ-Blower" is a masterpiece of poetry that explores themes of loneliness, isolation, time, change, art, and beauty. Oliver Wendell Holmes has created a poignant and beautiful portrayal of the life of an organ-grinder, who is often overlooked and ignored by the people around him. The poem is a reminder that even though we may be ignored by the world, we can still find peace and contentment in the beauty that we create.

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