Born in Somerville, Massachusetts, Holmes primarily taught literature at Tufts, the college from which he graduated in 1929. His first book of poems, Address to the Living, contained the only blurb which Robert Frost ever wrote. In addition to his light verse in The New Yorker and his other poems in Fair Warning and Map of my Country, Holmes regularly brought his students into contact with living notable poets. Poetry workshops which grew around Holmes included John Ciardi, Richard Eberhart, Richard Wilbur, and May Sarton. He also hosted a small workshop which brought together Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin.
THE OLD PROFESSOR
It isn’t the young men sprawling in chairs I mind.
(Though when I was a student we sat straight.)
It isn’t that I mind much the coughing, or cutting
My classes, or ignorant ignorance of the past.
(When I was a student, we said Sir, stood to recite.)
It isn’t that I mind ideas. I had some, too,
And was told it wasn’t right, and wouldn’t do,
And it couldn’t be, and I had them just the same.
It isn’t the clothes. It isn’t the swing music.
But sometimes I walk the college streets at night,
Hands rammed into topcoat pockets, collar up,
Kicking the leaves before me, cursing the College,
Cursing he dull dear young indifferent damned,
They boys and girls who never wanted to know,
And never will, but can be passed in the course.