"The Last Leaf Upon The Tree"

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 167

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Context: The subject of this poem was Major Thomas Melville, grandfather of the novelist, a survivor of the Boston Tea Party and an eccentric who continued the costume of the eighteenth century into a new age and thus became one of the sights of Boston. The theme of the poem is the cruelty of youth contemplating old age. The poet has been told by his grandmother of what a fine-looking man the Major was; but he can see only a bent old figure: queerly dressed, who has outlived all of his generation. He knows that it is wrong to laugh at the tottering old man, yet he cannot help doing so. But in a soberer moment he realizes that, one day, he may be like the Major–a relic of an age that is past. The poem ends:

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.