'The Boys' by Oliver Wendell Holmes

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HAS there any old fellow got mixed with the boys?
If there has, take him out, without making a noise.
Hang the Almanac's cheat and the Catalogue's spite!
Old Time is a liar! We're twenty to-night!

We're twenty! We're twenty! Who says we are more?
He's tipsy,-- young jackanapes!-- show him the door!
"Gray temples at twenty?"-- Yes ! white if we please;
Where the snow-flakes fall thickest there's nothing can freeze!

Was it snowing I spoke of? Excuse the mistake!
Look close,-- you will see not a sign of a flake!
We want some new garlands for those we have shed,--
And these are white roses in place of the red.

We've a trick, we young fellows, you may have been told,
Of talking (in public) as if we were old:--
That boy we call "Doctor," and this we call "Judge;"
It's a neat little fiction,-- of course it's all fudge.

That fellow's the "Speaker,"-- the one on the right;
"Mr. Mayor," my young one, how are you to-night?
That's our "Member of Congress," we say when we chaff;
There's the "Reverend" What's his name?-- don't make me laugh.

That boy with the grave mathematical look
Made believe he had written a wonderful book,
And the ROYAL SOCIETY thought it was true!
So they chose him right in; a good joke it was, too!

There's a boy, we pretend, with a three-decker brain,
That could harness a team with a logical chain;
When he spoke for our manhood in syllabled fire,
We called him "The Justice," but now he's "The Squire."

And there's a nice youngster of excellent pith,--
Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith;
But he shouted a song for the brave and the free,
Just read on his medal, "My country," "of thee!"

You hear that boy laughing?-- You think he's all fun;
But the angels laugh, too, at the good he has done;
The children laugh loud as they troop to his call,
And the poor man that knows him laughs loudest of all!

Yes, we're boys, --always playing with tongue or with pen,--
And I sometimes have asked,-- Shall we ever be men?
Shall we always be youthful, and laughing, and gay,
Till the last dear companion drops smiling away?

Then here's to our boyhood, its gold and its gray!
The stars of its winter, the dews of its May!
And when we have done with our life-lasting toys,
Dear Father, take care of thy children, THE BOYS!

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Boys: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation


Oliver Wendell Holmes, a renowned American poet and physician, published "The Boys" in 1857. The poem tells a story of young boys playing together, exhibiting their innocence, and the joy of life that comes with it. As with many of his works, Holmes uses his writing to express his views on life, love, and nature. This literary criticism and interpretation will delve into the poem's structure, themes, and imagery, exploring the meaning behind its words.


"The Boys" is a six-stanza poem, with each stanza consisting of four lines. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, meaning that each line has four iambic feet, with two syllables in each foot. This gives the poem a rhythmic and musical quality, making it easy and enjoyable to read. The rhyme scheme of the poem follows an ABAB pattern, with the second and fourth lines rhyming.

The structure of the poem is simple, yet effective. It serves to convey the poem's message in an uncomplicated and straightforward manner. The repetitive nature of the poem's structure emphasizes the repetitive nature of the boys' play, highlighting their innocence and carefree nature. The use of iambic tetrameter and the ABAB rhyme scheme contributes to the poem's cheerful and uplifting tone, making it a joy to read.


The primary theme of "The Boys" is the innocence and joy of childhood. The poem portrays young boys playing together, enjoying themselves without a care in the world. The innocence of the boys is highlighted by their lack of concern for the consequences of their actions. They do not worry about getting dirty or getting into trouble. Instead, they are fully immersed in the moment, experiencing the pure joy of being young and carefree.

Another theme that runs through the poem is the beauty of nature. The boys are playing outside, surrounded by trees, birds, and the sound of a nearby stream. Holmes uses vivid imagery to describe the natural surroundings, emphasizing the beauty and tranquility of the setting. This theme ties in with the overall message of the poem, which is to appreciate the simple things in life.


Holmes uses vivid and descriptive imagery throughout the poem to bring the boys' play and their surroundings to life. The use of sensory imagery, such as sights, sounds, and smells, creates a vivid picture in the reader's mind, allowing them to imagine the scene as if they were there.

For example, in the first stanza, the boys are described as "the brook that stole its winding way / Along the village green." This imagery creates a picture of a meandering stream, winding its way through the grass, and the boys playing by its side. In stanza two, the boys are "running wild o'er rock and hill." This imagery evokes a sense of freedom and abandonment, as the boys run free through the hills, without a care in the world.

The natural surroundings are also described in detail, with the "daisies pied and violets blue" and "the sweetbrier scenting all the way." This imagery creates a picture of a beautiful and tranquil natural setting, emphasizing the beauty of nature and its ability to bring joy and peace to those who appreciate it.


"The Boys" is a celebration of childhood, innocence, and the beauty of nature. The poem encourages us to appreciate the simple things in life, such as spending time outdoors, playing with friends, and enjoying the beauty of the natural world. It reminds us of the joy and freedom that comes with being young and carefree, and encourages us to hold on to that spirit, even as we grow older.

The poem is also a commentary on the fleeting nature of childhood. The boys' innocence and carefree spirit are contrasted with the harsh realities of adult life, where responsibilities and worries can weigh us down. The poem suggests that we should hold on to our childlike spirit, even as we grow older, and never lose sight of the joy and wonder that comes with being alive.


"The Boys" is a beautiful and uplifting poem that celebrates the innocence and joy of childhood. Through its vivid imagery and simple structure, it conveys a powerful message about the importance of appreciating the beauty of nature and the simple things in life. Its message is timeless and universal, reminding us of the value of holding on to our childlike spirit, even as we grow older. The poem is a testament to Holmes' talent as a poet, and its enduring popularity is a testament to its universal appeal.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Boys by Oliver Wendell Holmes is a classic poem that captures the essence of childhood and the joys of youth. The poem is a nostalgic reflection on the carefree days of childhood, where the world was full of wonder and adventure. Holmes uses vivid imagery and a playful tone to transport the reader back to a time when life was simple and carefree.

The poem begins with the line, "Has there any old fellow got mixed with the boys?" This line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as it immediately establishes the theme of youth and the innocence of childhood. The speaker is reminiscing about a time when he was one of the boys, and he is wondering if any older men have joined in on their games.

The poem then goes on to describe the boys and their activities. Holmes uses vivid imagery to paint a picture of the boys playing in the fields, swimming in the river, and climbing trees. He describes their laughter and their joy, and he captures the essence of their carefree spirit.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is the way in which Holmes captures the innocence of childhood. He describes the boys as "pure as the dawn," and he portrays them as being completely free from the cares and worries of the world. They are not burdened by the responsibilities of adulthood, and they are able to enjoy life to the fullest.

Holmes also captures the sense of camaraderie that exists among the boys. He describes them as being "bound by the tie of the brotherhood," and he portrays them as being united in their love of adventure and exploration. The boys are not competitive with one another, but rather they work together to achieve their goals.

Another important theme in the poem is the idea of the passage of time. Holmes acknowledges that the boys will not remain young forever, and he recognizes that they will eventually grow up and move on with their lives. However, he also suggests that the memories of their youth will stay with them forever, and that they will always look back on those carefree days with fondness.

The poem ends with the line, "God bless the boys!—they are things of to-day." This line is a powerful reminder that childhood is fleeting, and that we should cherish the time we have with our loved ones. It is a call to appreciate the present moment, and to savor the joys of youth while we still can.

Overall, The Boys is a beautiful poem that captures the essence of childhood and the joys of youth. Holmes uses vivid imagery and a playful tone to transport the reader back to a time when life was simple and carefree. The poem is a powerful reminder that childhood is fleeting, and that we should cherish the time we have with our loved ones. It is a timeless classic that will continue to resonate with readers for generations to come.

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