The Deacon's Masterpiece

by Oliver Wendell Holmes

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"A General Flavor Of Mild Decay"

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Last Updated on September 2, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 226

Context: Holmes, who was no admirer of Calvinistic theology, which had played so prominent a role in the history of New England, satirizes the logical structure of the Calvinists in this poem, and, in a way, laughs it out of people's serious thoughts, as it had long since ceased to be a vital force in their lives. Like the fabulous shay, Calvinism had begun in the most logical fashion theologians could devise; no one was ever able to break it down; but like the shay, that logical structure collapsed in importance, leaving the theologians in the dust. The deacon's masterpiece, built of the finest materials for each portion of its structure, lasts for a hundred years; it was finished by its maker on Lisbon Earthquake Day, November 1, 1755, and is still all in one piece on the hundredth anniversary of that date:

Little of all we value here
Wakes on the morn of its hundredth year
Without both feeling and looking queer.
In fact, there's nothing that keeps its youth,
So far as I know, but a tree and truth.
. . .
FIRST OF NOVEMBER,–the Earthquake-day–
There are traces of age in the one-hoss shay,
A general flavor of mild decay,
But nothing local, as one may say,
There couldn't be,–for the Deacon's art
Had made it so like in every part
That there wasn't a chance for one to start.

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"The Wonderful One-hoss Shay"