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Short poem

Mary Howitt (1799-1888)

The Fossil Elephant

              1The earth is old! Six thousand years,
              2    Are gone since I had birth;
              3In the forests of the olden time,
              4    And the solitudes of earth.

              5We were a race of mighty things;
              6    The world was all our own.
              7I dwelt with the Mammoth large and strong,
              8    And the giant Mastodon.

              9No ship went over the waters then,
            10    No ship with oar or sail;
            11But the wastes of the sea were habited
            12    By the Dragon and the Whale.

            13And the Hydra down in the ocean caves
            14    Abode, a creature grim;
            15And the scaled Serpents huge and strong
            16    Coiled up in the waters dim.

            17The wastes of the world were all our own;
            18    A proud, imperial lot!
            19Man had not then dominion given,
            20    Or else we knew it not.

            21There was no city on the plain;
            22    No fortress on the hill;
            23No mighty men of strength, who came
            24    With armies up, to kill.

            25There was no iron then -- no brass --
            26    No silver and no gold;
            27The wealth of the world was in its woods,
            28    And its granite mountains old.

            29And we were the kings of all the world
            30    We knew its breadth and length;
            31We dwelt in the glory of solitude,
            32    And the majesty of strength.

            33But suddenly came an awful change!
            34    Wherefore, ask not of me;
            35That it was, my desolate being shews, --
            36    Let that suffice for thee.

            37The Mammoth huge and the Mastodon
            38    Were buried beneath the earth;
            39And the Hydra and the Serpents strong,
            40    In the caves where they had birth!

            41There is now no place of silence deep,
            42    Whether on land or sea;
            43And the Dragons lie in the mountain-rock ,
            44    As if for eternity!

            45And far in the realms of thawless ice,
            46    Beyond each island shore,
            47My brethren lie in the darkness stern
            48    To awake to life no more!

            49And not till the last conflicting crash
            50    When the world consumes in fire,
            51Will their frozen sepulchres be loosed,
            52    And their dreadful doom expire!


8] Mastodon: giant mammal with molar teeth larger than those of any existing animal.

13] Hydra: many-headed serpent killed by Hercules, or possibly a form of the modern tubular polyp we call the hydra, which has tentacles surrounding its mouth.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Mary Howitt, Sketches of Natural History (London: Effingham Wilson, 1834): 19-22. Facsimile Edition, introduction by Carolyn Whiteside (New York: Johnson Reprint, 1970). PR 4809 H2S55 1834a Robarts Library.
First publication date: 1834
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1999.
Recent editing: 2:2002/3/7

Rhyme: abcb

Other poems by Mary Howitt