Chambered Nautilus

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Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809—1894) American physician, poet, and essayist

John Clellon Holmes (1926—1988)


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Poem by Holmes, included in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858) and in later collections of poems. It consists of five seven-line stanzas, in the pattern of three iambic pentameters, three trimeters, and a final alexandrine: a5a3b3b5b5c3c6.

A chambered nautilus is a mollusk that begins life in a small shell and builds larger ones as it grows. In the poem this symbolizes human endeavor, and the reader is exhorted to build a broader and more comprehensive life, growing with his age and experience.

Subjects: Literature.

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