The Last Leaf

The Last Leaf

By Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

I saw him once before,
As he passed by the door,
And again
The pavement stones resound,
As he totters o’er the ground
With his cane.

They say that in his prime,
Ere the pruning-knife of Time
Cut him down,
Not a better man was found
By the Crier on his round
Through the town.

But now he walks the streets,
And looks at all he meets
Sad and wan,
And he shakes his feeble head,
That it seems as if he said,
‘They are gone.’

The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has prest
In their bloom,
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
On the tomb.

My grandmamma has said—
Poor old lady, she is dead
Long ago—
That he had a Roman nose,
And his cheek was like a rose
In the snow;

But now his nose is thin,
And it rests upon his chin
Like a staff,
And a crook is in his back,
And a melancholy crack
In his laugh.

I know it is a sin
For me to sit and grin
At him here;
But the old three-cornered hat,
And the breeches, and all that,
Are so queer!

And if I should live to be
The last leaf upon the tree
In the spring,
Let them smile, as I do now,
At the old forsaken bough
Where I cling.

Summary of The Last Leaf

  • Popularity of ‘The Last Leaf’: Oliver Wendell Holmes, a great American poet wrote this poem about an old man who has outlived his generation and is now lonely and sad. It was first published in 1883. ‘The Last Leaf’ illustrates how the young generation thinks about the people who have grown older. The poet beautifully discusses the difference between the thoughts and styles of the old and young generations.
  • ‘The Last Leaf’ As a Representative of Life: This simple yet interesting poem revolves around an old man who passes through the speaker’s door while staggering with his cane. The poet hints that he was a gentleman in his youth, but time has stolen his glory. Now he wanders the streets alone and seems to mourn his kinsmen who probably died long ago. The speaker’s grandmother, who is also now dead, told him in the past about the old man’s attractive appearance. Unfortunately, his rosy cheeks, sharp nose, and sweet voice are the stories of the past. Now, he seems weak with a trembling voice. The speaker admits that it is wrong to laugh at his situation, but it is normal for those who aren’t part of their families.
  • Major Themes in ‘The Last Leaf’: Loneliness and physical infirmities of old age and the importance of caring elders are the main themes of the poem. The speaker conveys a message that though men seem important and handsome in their prime, their significance and glory decline over time. The speaker shows light on the ending phase of someone’s life, where a person feels lost in the memories of those with whom he has shared his best moments in the past. However, their choices, appearances, and emotions seem senseless to those who are lost in the present world. The speaker realizes that he should not laugh at the old man’s shaky laughter and strange outfits because he knows when he himself gets old he will look the same.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in ‘The Last Leaf’

literary devices are modes that represent the writer’s ideas, feelings, and emotions. It is through these devices the writers make their words appealing to the readers. Oliver Wendell has also used some literary devices in this poem to make it appealing. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem is listed below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sounds of /e/ and /i/ in “Let them smile, as I do now” and the sound of /i/ in “Ere the pruning-knife of Time.”
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession. For example, the sound of /m/ in “The mossy marbles rest.”
  3. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; instead, it rolls over to the next line. For example,

Not a better man was found
By the Crier on his round
Through the town.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “But now his nose is thin”, “The last leaf upon the tree”, and “The pavement stones resound.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different in nature. For example, in the second stanza of the poem, “pruning-knife of time” represents time as a weapon that injures the body.

“They say that in his prime,
Ere the pruning-knife of Time
Cut him down.”

  1. Simile: It is a device used to compare something with something else to make the meanings clear to the readers. For example, in the fifth stanza of the poem, the color cheek is compared to a rose flower, “And his cheek was like a rose/In the snow.”
  2. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from literal meanings. “The last leaf” in the poem symbolizes the last surviving person.
  3. Synecdoche: It is a literary device in which a part of something represents the whole, or it may use a whole to represent a part. For example, in the last stanza, the expression as “the last leaf” refers to the last person of any generation.

“And if I should live to be
The last leaf upon the tree
In the spring.”

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “The Last Lea”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. For example, “before/door”, “ground/resound” and “sin/grin”
  2. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows the AABCCB rhyme scheme and this pattern continues until the end.
  3. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are six stanzas in this poem with each comprising six lines.
  4. Sestet: A sestet is a six-lined stanza borrowed from Italian poetry. The poem has six sestets.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are suitable to use when talking about the aging phenomenon. No matter what we achieve in life, one day we all have to leave this glorious world.

And if I should live to be
The last leaf upon the tree
In the spring,
Let them smile, as I do now,
At the old forsaken bough
Where I cling.’