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Short poem

James Brunton Stephens (1835-1902)

The Power of Science

              1"All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
              2   Whatever stirs this mortal frame,"
              3Are but the legacies of apes,
              4     With interest on the same.

              5How oft in studious hours do I
              6   Recall those moments, gone too soon,
              7When midway in the hall I stood,
              8     Beside the Dichobune.

              9Through the Museum-windows played
            10   The light on fossil, cast, and chart;
            11And she was there, my Gwendoline,
            12    The mammal of my heart.

            13She leaned against the Glyptodon,
            14   The monster of the sculptured tooth;
            15She looked a fossil specimen
            16     Herself, to tell the truth.

            17She leaned against the Glyptodon;
            18   She fixed her glasses on her nose;
            19One Pallas-foot drawn back displayed
            20     The azure of her hose.

            21Few virtues had she of her own--
            22   She borrowed them from time and space;
            23Her age was eocene, although
            24     Post-tertiary her place.

            25The Irish Elk that near us stood,
            26   (Megaceros Hibernicus),
            27Scarce dwarfed her; while I bowed beneath
            28     Her stately overplus.

            29I prized her pre-diluvian height,
            30   Her palæozoic date of birth,
            31For these to a scientific eye
            32     Had scientific worth.

            33She had some crotchets of her own,
            34   My sweet viviparous Gwendoline;
            35She loved me best when I would sing
            36     Her ape-descent and mine.

            37I raised a wild pansophic lay
            38   (The public fled the dismal tones);--
            39I struck a chord that suited well
            40     That entourage of bones.

            41I sang the very dawn of life,
            42   Cleared at a bound the infinite chasm
            43That sunders inorganic dust
            44     From sly-born protoplasm.

            45I smote the stiffest chords of song,
            46   I showed her in a glorious burst
            47How universal unity
            48     Was dual from the first.

            49How primal germs contained in one
            50   The beau-ideal and the belle;
            51And how the "mystery of life"
            52     Is just a perfect cell.

            53I showed how sense itself began
            54   In senseless gropings after sense;--
            55(She seemed to find it so herself,
            56     Her gaze was so intense.)

            57And how the very need of light
            58   Conceived, and visual organs bore:
            59Until an optic want evolved
            60     The spectacles she wore.

            61How headless molluscs making head
            62   Against the fashions of their line,
            63On pulpy maxims turned their backs,
            64     And specialized a spine.

            65How landward longings seized on fish,
            66   Fretted the type within their eggs,
            67And in amphibian issue dif-
            68     Ferentiated legs.

            69I hopped the quaint marsupials,
            70   And into higher mammals ran,
            71And through a subtle fugue I stole
            72     From Lemurs up to Man.

            73How tails were lost -- but when I reached
            74   This saddest part of all my lay,
            75She dropped the corners of her mouth,
            76     And turned her face away.

            77And proud to see my lofty love
            78   So sweetly wince, so coyly shrink,
            79I woke a moving threnody --
            80     I sang the missing link.

            81And when I spake of vanished kin,
            82   Of Simian races dead and gone,
            83The wave of sorrow from her eyes
            84     Half-drowned the Glyptodon.

            85I turned to other, brighter themes,
            86   And glancing at our different scales,
            87I showed how lady beetles are
            88     Robuster than the males.

            89I sang the Hymenoptera;
            90   How insect-brides are sought and got;
            91How stridulation of the male
            92     First hinted what was what.

            93And when -- perchance too fervently --
            94   I smote upon the chord of sex,
            95I saw the tardy spark of love
            96     Blaze up behind her specs.

            97She listened with a heightened grace,
            98   She blushed a blush like ruby wine,
            99Then bent her stately head and clinked
          100     Her spectacles on mine.

          101A mighty impulse rattled through
          102   Her well-articulated frame;
          103And into one delighted ear
          104     She breathed my Christian name.

          105And whispered that my song had given
          106   Her secret thought substantial shape,
          107For she had long considered me
          108     The offshoot of an ape.

          109She raised me from the enchanted floor,
          110   And, as my lips her shoulder met,
          111Between two asthmas of embrace
          112     She called me marmosette.

          113I strove to calm her down; she grew
          114   Serener and serener;
          115And so I won my Gwendoline,
          116     My vertebrate congener.


4] Cf. S.T. Coleridge's poem "Love," which begins: All thoughts, all passions, all delights, Whatever stirs this mortal frame, All are but ministers of Love, And feed his sacred flame.

8] Dichobune: mammal of the middle Eocene.

13] Glyptodon: extinct South American mammal, linked to the armadillo but much larger, and with fluted teeth.

19] Pallas: Greek Athena, goddess of the arts, war and wisdom.

23] eocene: 55-38 million years ago.

26] Megaceros Hibernicus: extinct after the last ice age.

29] pre-diluvian: from before (Noah's) flood.

34] viviparous: capable of bearing offspring.

37] pansophic: relating universal knowledge.

69] marsupials: mammals that nurse offspring in an abdominal pouch, such as a kangaroo.

79] threnody: dirge, song of sorrow.

82] Simian: ape-like.

89] Hymenoptera: order of insect, including the wasp, in which females have an ovipositor (egg-deposit tube) which they double as a sting.

91] stridulation: shrill grating sound.

111] asthmas: moments in which breathing is difficult.

112] marmosette: small squirrel-sized monkey, often made into pets.

116] congener: mate, creature of same kind.

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: Stephens, J. Brunton, Convict Once and Other Poems (Melbourne and Sydney: George Robertson & Co., 1888): 214-219.
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2004
Recent editing: 1:2004/6/30

Form: quatrains
Rhyme: abcb defe

Other poems by James Brunton Stephens