The Power of Science by J. Brunton Stephens

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"All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
   Whatever stirs this mortal frame,"
Are but the legacies of apes,
            With interest on the same.
How oft in studious hours do I
   Recall those moments, gone too soon,
When midway in the hall I stood,
            Beside the Dichobune.
Through the Museum-windows played
   The light on fossil, cast, and chart;
And she was there, my Gwendoline,
            The mammal of my heart.
She leaned against the Glyptodon,
   The monster of the sculptured tooth;
She looked a fossil specimen
            Herself, to tell the truth.

She leaned against the Glyptodon;
   She fixed her glasses on her nose;
One Pallas-foot drawn back displayed
            The azure of her hose.
Few virtues had she of her own--
   She borrowed them from time and space;
Her age was eocene, although
            Post-tertiary her place.
The Irish Elk that near us stood,
   (Megaceros Hibernicus),
Scarce dwarfed her; while I bowed beneath
            Her stately overplus.
I prized her pre-diluvian height,
   Her palaeozoic date of birth,
For these to scientific eye
            Had scientific worth.
She had some crotchets of her own,
   My sweet viviparous Gwendoline;
She loved me best when I would sing
            Her ape-descent and mine.
I railed a wild pansophic lay ;
   (The public fled the diurnal tones); --
I struck a chord that suited well
            That entourage of bones.
I sang the very dawn of life,
   Cleared at a bound the infinite chasm
That sunders inorganic dust
            From sly-born protoplasm.
I smote the stiffest chords of song,
   I showed her in a glorious burst
How universal unity
            Was dual from the first.
How primal germs contained in one
   The beau-ideal and the belle ;
And how the "mystery of life"
            Is just a perfect cell.
I showed how sense itself began
   In senseless gropings after sense; --  
(She seemed to find it so herself,
            Her gaze was so intense).
And how the very need of light
   Conceived, and visual organs bore;
Until an optic want evolved
            The spectacles she wore.
How headless molluscs making head
   Against the fashions of their line,
On pulpy maxims turned their backs,
            And specialised a spine.
How landward longings seized on fish,
   Fretted the type within their eggs,
And in amphibian issue differ-
            entiated legs.
I hopped the quaint marsupials,
   And into mammal races ran,
And in a daring fugue I rushed
            From Lemurs up to Man.
How tails were lost--but when I reached
   This saddest part of all my lay,
She dropped the corners of her mouth,
            And turned her face away.
And proud to see my lofty love  
   So sweetly, wince, so coyly shrink,
I woke a moving threnody--
            I sang the missing link.
And when I spake of vanished kin,
   Of Simian races dead and gone,
The wave of sorrow from her eyes
            Half-drowned the Glyptodon.
I turned to other, brighter themes,
   And glancing at our different scales,
I showed how lady beetles are
            Robuster than the males.
I sang the Hymenoptera;
   How insect-brides are sought and got;
How stridulation of the male
            First hinted what was what.
And when--perchance too fervently--
   I smote upon the chord of sex,
I saw the tardy spark of love
            Blaze up behind her specs.
She listened with a heightened grace,
   She blushed a blush like ruby wine,
Then bent her stately head, and clinked
            Her spectacles on mine.
A mighty impulse rattled through
   Her well-articulated frame;
And into one delighted ear
            She breathed my Christian name.
And whispered that my song had given
   Her secret thought substantial shape,
For she had long considered me
            The offshoot of an ape.
She raised me from the enchanted floor,
   And, as my lips her shoulder met,
Between two asthmas of embrace
            She called me marmosette.
I strove to calm her down; she grew
   Owner and serener;
And so I won my Gwendoline,
            My vertebrate congener.
First published in The Queenslander, 30 October 1875;
and later in
Convict Once and Other Poems by J. Brunton Stephens, 1885; and
The Poetical Works of Brunton Stephens by J. Brunton Stephens, 1902.

Author reference sites: AustlitAustralian Dictionary of BiographyAustralian Poetry LibraryOld Qld Poetry

See also.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on October 30, 2012 8:40 AM.

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