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Short poem

Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman (1860-1935)

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              1There was once a little animal,
              2    No bigger than a fox,
              3And on five toes he scampered
              4    Over Tertiary rocks.
              5They called him Eohippus,
              6    And they called him very small,
              7And they thought him of no value -–
              8    When they thought of him at all;
              9For the lumpish old Dinoceras
            10    And Coryphodon so slow
            11Were the heavy aristocracy
            12    In days of long ago.

            13Said the little Eohippus,
            14    “I am going to be a horse!
            15And on my middle finger-nails
            16    To run my earthly course!
            17I’m going to have a flowing tail!
            18    I’m going to have a mane!
            19I’m going to stand fourteen hands high
            20    On the psychozoic plain!”

            21The Coryphodon was horrified,
            22    The Dinoceras was shocked;
            23And they chased young Eohippus,
            24    But he skipped away and mocked.
            25Then they laughed enormous laughter,
            26    And they groaned enormous groans.
            27And they bade young Eohippus
            28    Go view his father’s bones.
            29Said they, “You always were as small
            30    And mean as now we see,
            31And that’s conclusive evidence
            32    That you’re always going to be.
            33What! Be a great, tall, handsome beast,
            34    With hoofs to gallop on?
            35Why! You’d have to change your nature!
            36    Said the Loxolophodon.
            37They considered him disposed of,
            38    And retired with gait serene;
            39That was the way they argued
            40    In “the early Eocene”.
            41There was once an Anthropoidal Ape,
            42    Far smarter than the rest,
            43And everything that they could do
            44    He always did the best;
            45So they naturally disliked him
            46    And they gave him shoulders cool,
            47And when they had to mention him
            48    They said he was a fool.

            49Cried this pretentious Ape one day,
            50    “I’m going to be a man!
            51And stand upright, and hunt, and fight,
            52    And conquer all I can!
            53I’m going to cut down forest trees,
            54    To make my houses higher!
            55I’m going to kill the Mastodon!
            56    I’m going to make a fire!”

            57Loud screamed the Anthropoidal Apes
            58    With laughter wild and gay;
            59They tried to catch that boastful one,
            60    But he always got away.
            61So they yelled at him in chorus,
            62    Which he minded not a whit;
            63And they pelted him with cocoanuts,
            64    Which didn’t seem to hit.
            65And then they gave him reasons
            66    Which they thought of much avail,
            67To prove how his preposterous
            68    Attempt was sure to fail.
            69Said the sages, “In the first place,
            70    The thing cannot be done!
            71And, second, if it could be,
            72    It would not be any fun!
            73And, third, and most conclusive,
            74    And admitting no reply,
            75You would have to change your nature!
            76    We should like to see you try!”
            77They chuckled then triumphantly,
            78    These lean and hairy shapes,
            79For these things passed as arguments
            80    With the Anthropoidal Apes.

            81There was once a Neolithic Man,
            82    An enterprising wight,
            83Who made his chopping implements
            84    Unusually bright.
            85Unusually clever he,
            86    Unusually brave,
            87And he drew delightful Mammoths
            88    On the borders of his cave.
            89To his Neolithic neighbours,
            90    Who were startled and surprised,
            91Said he, “My friends, in course of time,
            92    We shall be civilized!
            93We are going to live in cities!
            94    We are going to fight in wars!
            95We are going to eat three times a day
            96    Without the natural cause!
            97We are going to turn life upside down
            98    About a thing called gold!
            99We are going to want the earth, and take
          100    As much as we can hold!
          101We are going to wear great piles of stuff
          102    Outside our proper skins!
          103We are going to have Diseases!
          104    And Accomplishments!! And Sins!!!”

          105Then they all rose up in fury
          106    Against their boastful friend,
          107For prehistoric patience
          108    Cometh quickly to an end.
          109Said one, “This is chimerical!
          110    Utopian! Absurd!”
          111Said another, “What a stupid life!
          112    Too dull, upon my word!”
          113Cried all, Before such things can come,
          114    You idiotic child,
          115You must alter Human Nature!
          116    And they all sat back and smiled.
          117Thought they, “An answer to that last
          118    It will be hard to find!”
          119It was a clinching argument
          120    To the Neolithic Mind!


4] Tertiary: of recent geological origin.

9] “A genus of extinct ungulated quadrupeds (Dinocerata) of huge size, and having apparently three pairs of horns” (OED).

10] Coryphodon: tapir-like mammal of the lower Eocene period.

20] “of or belonging to the geological period of living creatures having souls or minds, i.e. the human period” (OED, “psycho-“).

36] Loxolophodon: extinct “mammals, having obliquely crested molar teeth” (OED).

40] Eocene: lowest division of the Tertiary era.

81] Neolithic: new stone age.

Online text copyright © 2004, 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: In This Our World (Boston: Small, Maynard, 1899): 95-100.
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2004
Recent editing: 1:2004/6/10

Rhyme: abcbdefe...

Other poems by Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman