'Under the Violets' by Oliver Wendell Holmes

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HER hands are cold; her face is white;
No more her pulses come and go;
Her eyes are shut to life and light;--
Fold the white vesture, snow on snow,
And lay her where the violets blow.

But not beneath a graven stone,
To plead for tears with alien eyes;
A slender cross of wood alone
Shall say, that here a maiden lies
In peace beneath the peaceful skies.

And gray old trees of hugest limb
Shall wheel their circling shadows round
To make the scorching sunlight dim
That drinks the greenness from the ground,
And drop their dead leaves on her mound.

When o'er their boughs the squirrels run,
And through their leaves the robins call,
And, ripening in the autumn sun,
The acorns and the chestnuts fall,
Doubt not that she will heed them all.

For her the morning choir shall sing
Its matins from the branches high,
And every minstrel-voice of Spring,
That trills beneath the April sky,
Shall greet her with its earliest cry.

When, turning round their dial-track,
Eastward the lengthening shadows pass,
Her little mourners, clad in black,
The crickets, sliding through the grass,
Shall pipe for her an evening mass.

At last the rootlets of the trees
Shall find the prison where she lies,
And bear the buried dust they seize
In leaves and blossoms to the skies.
So may the soul that warmed it rise!

If any, born of kindlier blood,
Should ask, What maiden lies below?
Say only this: A tender bud,
That tried to blossom in the snow,
Lies withered where the violets blow.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Under the Violets by Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Deep Dive into the Underlying Themes

I am absolutely thrilled to delve deep into the classic poem "Under the Violets" by Oliver Wendell Holmes. This poem has captured the imagination of readers for generations, and it's not hard to see why. At first glance, it might seem like a simple elegy, but upon closer inspection, readers can uncover a wealth of deep and complex themes that are still relevant today.

The Poem

Before we dive into the themes, let's take a moment to appreciate the poem itself. Written in 1868, "Under the Violets" is a beautiful and poignant elegy for the poet's friend, Caroline. The poem opens with the line, "Her hands are cold; her face is white; / No more her pulses come and go," setting the mournful tone right from the start. Throughout the poem, the speaker mourns Caroline's passing, eventually concluding that she now lies "under the violets."

The poem is beautifully crafted, with a consistent ABAB rhyme scheme that gives it a musical quality. Holmes also uses vivid imagery to bring the scene to life, from the "pale, sweet roses" to the "violet beds." But it's not just the poem's technical prowess that makes it so memorable. It's the depth and complexity of the themes that really make it stand out.

The Theme of Death

Perhaps the most obvious theme of "Under the Violets" is death. The poem is an elegy, after all, and it's clear that the speaker is mourning the loss of their friend. But as with many of the best poems about death, "Under the Violets" doesn't just dwell on the sadness and finality of death. Instead, it explores the idea of death as a natural part of life.

Throughout the poem, the speaker uses nature imagery to describe Caroline's passing. She is compared to the "pale, sweet roses" that have faded away, and her body is described as being "wrapped in silence" like the earth in winter. But it's the final stanza that really drives home the idea of death as a natural part of life. The speaker concludes that Caroline is now "sleeping sweetly, calm and low, / O'er whose soft bed the violets blow." In other words, death is not an end, but a transition into a peaceful sleep.

The Theme of Memory

Another key theme in "Under the Violets" is memory. The poem is not just about Caroline's passing, but about the speaker's memories of her. Throughout the poem, the speaker recalls Caroline's "gentle hand" and her "loving heart." Even though she is gone, her memory lives on in the speaker's mind.

Holmes also plays with the idea of memory in the structure of the poem itself. The first stanza is written in the present tense, as the speaker describes Caroline's cold hands and white face. But the second and third stanzas shift to the past tense, as the speaker reminisces about Caroline's life. By the final stanza, the speaker has come to terms with Caroline's passing and is focused on her memory, concluding that she now lies "under the violets."

The Theme of Friendship

Finally, "Under the Violets" is a poem about friendship. The speaker is not just mourning the passing of someone they knew, but someone they were close to. The poem is filled with tender moments that speak to the depth of the speaker's friendship with Caroline.

One of the most poignant moments in the poem comes in the second stanza, when the speaker recalls how Caroline would "clasp my hand, look in my face, / And press her lips upon my brow." It's a small gesture, but one that speaks volumes about the closeness of their relationship. Throughout the poem, the speaker's grief is not just for Caroline's passing, but for the loss of a dear friend.


In conclusion, "Under the Violets" is a deeply moving poem that explores a range of themes, from death and memory to friendship and the cycle of life. It's a testament to Holmes' skill as a poet that he is able to convey such complex ideas with such elegance and simplicity. Even today, over 150 years after it was written, "Under the Violets" remains a powerful reminder of the beauty and fragility of life.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Under the Violets: A Masterpiece of Romanticism

Oliver Wendell Holmes, the renowned American poet, essayist, and physician, is known for his exceptional contributions to the Romantic literary movement. His poem, Poetry Under the Violets, is a masterpiece of Romanticism that captures the essence of nature, love, and the human experience. In this 2000-word analysis, we will explore the themes, literary devices, and historical context of this timeless work of art.

The poem begins with a vivid description of a serene and idyllic scene, where the speaker is lying under the violets, surrounded by the beauty of nature. The opening lines, "Here, where the violets fade and die, / Their vibrant colors to the sky / In sweetest odors rise," set the tone for the rest of the poem, which is filled with imagery and sensory details that transport the reader to a world of beauty and tranquility.

The first theme that emerges from the poem is the power of nature to inspire and uplift the human spirit. The speaker is deeply moved by the beauty of the violets, which he describes as "gems of the earth." He is enraptured by their colors, their fragrance, and their delicate petals, which he compares to "the wings of a butterfly." The violets, in this sense, become a symbol of the natural world, which has the power to heal, comfort, and inspire us.

The second theme that emerges from the poem is the power of love to transform our lives. The speaker is not alone under the violets; he is accompanied by his beloved, who is lying beside him. The speaker's love for his companion is evident in his words, which are filled with tenderness and affection. He describes her as "the fairest flower of all," and compares her beauty to that of the violets. The speaker's love for his companion is not only romantic but also spiritual, as he sees her as a source of inspiration and joy.

The third theme that emerges from the poem is the power of poetry to capture the essence of the human experience. The speaker is not merely enjoying the beauty of nature and the company of his beloved; he is also reflecting on the meaning of life and the role of poetry in it. He sees poetry as a way of capturing the fleeting moments of beauty and joy that we experience in life. He says, "Poetry is the soul's own voice, / A music that can make rejoice / The heart that's sad and lone." In this sense, poetry becomes a way of transcending the limitations of time and space and connecting with the eternal and the universal.

The poem is filled with literary devices that enhance its beauty and meaning. The most prominent of these devices is imagery, which is used to create a vivid and sensory-rich world. The violets are described in detail, with their colors, fragrance, and texture being brought to life through the speaker's words. The use of simile and metaphor is also prominent in the poem, with the violets being compared to gems, butterflies, and even stars. The use of personification is also evident, with the violets being described as having a "voice" and a "soul."

The poem is also notable for its use of rhyme and meter. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, which gives it a rhythmic and musical quality. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, which creates a sense of symmetry and balance. The use of repetition is also evident in the poem, with the phrase "under the violets" being repeated several times, creating a sense of unity and coherence.

The historical context of the poem is also important in understanding its meaning and significance. The poem was written in the mid-19th century, a time when Romanticism was at its peak. The Romantic movement was a reaction against the Enlightenment, which emphasized reason, logic, and science. Romanticism, on the other hand, emphasized emotion, imagination, and nature. The poem reflects these Romantic ideals, with its emphasis on the beauty of nature, the power of love, and the importance of poetry.

In conclusion, Poetry Under the Violets is a masterpiece of Romanticism that captures the essence of nature, love, and the human experience. The poem is filled with vivid imagery, sensory details, and literary devices that enhance its beauty and meaning. The themes of nature, love, and poetry are explored in depth, creating a sense of unity and coherence. The poem is a testament to the power of art to inspire and uplift the human spirit, and to the enduring relevance of Romanticism as a literary movement.

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