The Music Grinders

The Music Grinders  (1836) 
by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

There are three ways in which men take
   One's money from his purse,
And very hard it is to tell
   Which of the three is worse;
But all of them are bad enough
   To make a body curse.

You're riding out some pleasant day,
   And counting up your gains;
A fellow jumps from out a bush
   And takes your horse's reins,
Another hints some words about
   A bullet in your brains.

It's hard to meet such pressing friends
   In such a lonely spot;
It's very hard to lose your cash,
   But harder to be shot;
And so you take your wallet out,
   Though you would rather not.

Perhaps you're going out to dine,—
   Some filthy creature begs
You'll hear about the cannon-ball
   That carried off his pegs,
And says it is a dreadful thing
   For men to lose their legs.

He tells you of his starving wife,
   His children to be fed,
Poor, little, lovely innocents,
   All clamorous for bread,—
And so you kindly help to put
   A bachelor to bed.

You're sitting on your window-seat
   Beneath a cloudless moon;
You hear a sound, that seems to wear
   The semblance of a tune,
As if a broken fife should strive
   To drown a crack'd bassoon.

And nearer, nearer still, the tide
   Of music seems to come,
There's something like a human voice,
   And something like a drum;
You sit, in speechless agony,
   Until your ear is numb.

Poor "Home, sweet home" should seem to be
   A very dismal place;
Your "Auld acquaintance," all at once,
   Is alter'd in the face;
Their discords sting through Burns and Moore,
   Like hedgehogs dressed in lace.

You think they are crusaders, sent
   From some infernal clime,
To pluck the eyes of Sentiment,
   And dock the tail of Rhyme,
To crack the voice of Melody,
   And break the legs of Time.

Bur, hark! the air again is still,
   The music all is ground,
And silence, like a poultice, comes
   To heal the blows of sound;
It cannot be,—it is,—it is,—
   A hat is going round!

No! Pay the dentist when he leaves
   A fracture in your jaw,
And pay the owner of the bear,
   That stunn'd you with his paw,
And buy the lobster, that has had
   Your knuckles in his claw;

But if you are a portly man,
   Put on your fiercest frown,
And talk about a constable
   To turn them out of town;
Then close your sentence with an oath,
   And shut the window down!

And if you are a slender man,
   Not big enough for that,
Or, if you cannot make a speech,
   Because you are a flat,
Go very quietly and drop
   A button in the hat!

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.