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Featured Poem: Contentment by Oliver Wendell Holmes

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 27th December 2010

So...another Christmas Day has come and gone and the weeks and even months of preparation have all melted away, even if the snow hasn’t, although one can hope; while looking at a genuine Winter Wonderland is something of a novelty for a couple of days, walking in one isn’t the easiest of things to do (and it’s also hugely irritating that even a dusting can put paid to plans both long made and somewhat spontaneous). Hopefully, your Christmas went off without a hitch (or if unavoidable, not too many at least), you enjoyed your turkey/alternative Christmas food (as well as all those chocolates, nibbles and piles of leftovers) and that you found something nice at the bottom of your stocking.

But if you didn’t, then maybe this poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes will make you feel better. While we’re still in the season of over-indulgence, it’s both timely and a bit guilt-inducing to have a read through this as an antidote. For those who can’t splash the cash this season, or whose credit cards have taken a bit of a hammering, it’s worth knowing that luxury, excess and extravagance isn’t always everything – though a little bit every now and again is nice. Maybe that can be a collective excuse...


Little I ask; my wants are few;
I only wish a hut of stone,
(A very plain brown stone will do,)
That I may call my own;
And close at hand is such a one,
In yonder street that fronts the sun.

Plain food is quite enough for me;
Three courses are as good as ten;
If Nature can subsist on three,
Thank Heaven for three. Amen!
I always thought cold victual nice;
My choice would be vanilla-ice.

I care not much for gold or land;
Give me a mortgage here and there,
Some good bank-stock, some note of hand,
Or trifling railroad share,
I only ask that Fortune send
A little more than I shall spend.

Honors are silly toys, I know,
And titles are but empty names;
I would, perhaps, be Plenipo,
But only near St. James;
I'm very sure I should not care
To fill our Gubernator's chair.

Jewels are baubles; 't is a sin
To care for such unfruitful things;
One good-sized diamond in a pin,
Some, not so large, in rings,
A ruby, and a pearl, or so,
Will do for me; - I laugh at show.

My dame should dress in cheap attire;
(Good, heavy silks are never dear;)
I own perhaps I might desire
Some shawls of true Cashmere,
Some marrowy crapes of China silk,
Like wrinkled skins on scalded milk.

I would not have the horse I drive
So fast that folks must stop and stare;
An easy gait - two forty-five
Suits me; I do not care;
Perhaps, for just a single spurt,
Some seconds less would do no hurt.

Of pictures, I should like to own
Titians and Raphaels three or four,
I love so much their style and tone,
One Turner, and no more,
(A landscape, - foreground golden dirt,
The sunshine painted with a squirt.)

Of books but few, - some fifty score
For daily use, and bound for wear;
The rest upon an upper floor;
Some little luxury there
Of red morocco's gilded gleam
And vellum rich as country cream.

Busts, cameos, gems, such things as these,
Which others often show for pride,
I value for their power to please,
And selfish churls deride;
One Stradivarius, I confess,
Two Meerschaums, I would fain possess.

Wealth's wasteful tricks I will not learn,
Nor ape the glittering upstart fool;
Shall not carved tables serve my turn,
But all must be of buhl?
Give grasping pomp its double share,
I ask but one recumbent chair.

Thus humble let me live and die,
Nor long for Midas' golden touch;
If Heaven more generous gifts deny,
I shall not miss them much,
Too grateful for the blessing lent
Of simple tastes and mind content!

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)

1 thought on “Featured Poem: Contentment by Oliver Wendell Holmes

louise says:

umm Nearly a week since christmas , and now just a fading memory funny how shops get ready months ago but really the bells jingleing or is it clanging really do not last long .
I have beeen thinking deep thoughts!!!!(think about to fall into a hole but still) but thinking the majority of christmas parties etc are before the 25th and most people expecting a baby do celebrate til after the birth and how do you know you have behaved enough to let Father Cristmas come down your chimney!! I told myMum this and she has told me none is going to change things now you are probably the only one who thinks such things !!(CHARMING)
I like the poem as makes me think how we have so much here and can make me feel quite guilty as if is a celebration og how much we have!!
I have always enjoyed the simple things in life , no need to spen a fortune to show you care
The best christmas present I got this year and perhaps any year, I got from a friend in a reading group, we went to see Harry Potter( thats another story) and was handed an envelope and took it home and inside was a christmas card with a donation to a child in Haiti of pens and paper with an note inside saying “THOUGHT you would like this seeing you love pens and Paper ! well I did and meant more to me tham anyting showing the real spirit of Christmas , shame the feeling of good will lasts so few days maybe gor a short sell by date!!

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