Many of Oliver Wendell Holmes' poems express his views about the human condition (the person's search for purpose, fears of the unknown, and curiosities) and his hopes for improvement.
This poem questions the reasons why people do what they do (specifically the youth, as the title of the poem suggests as its "listener"). Here, Holmes is questioning why the youth tend to gather around "sunken wrecks" and sleep on "angry waves." This poem speaks to the human condition of isolation and sorrow. In the end, Holmes provides the reader with his hope for improvement:
Let youth the sacred work begin!
What nobler task, what fairer prize
Than earth to save and Heaven to win?
In this poem, the tragic life of a housemaid is described. She, unhappy at her "title," wishes to be everything but what she is, a housemaid. Looking out the window, the housemaid speaks to her own personal condition: She wishes to be a seamstress, a Queen, and an Empress. What Holmes is speaking to in this poem is the fact that some people simply cannot accept how their lives have turned out. In the end, Holmes' hope for his housemaid is
Give her all Eden, she sighs for a pippin;
Give her an Empire, she pines for a name!