The Power of Science

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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 palæozoic date of birth,
For these to a 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 raised a wild pansophic lay
(The public fled the dismal 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 specialized a spine.
How landward longings seized on fish,
Fretted the type within their eggs,
And in amphibian issue dif-
Ferentiated legs.
I hopped the quaint marsupials,
And into higher mammals ran,
And through a subtle fugue I stole
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
Serener and serener;
And so I won my Gwendoline,
My vertebrate congener.

© James Brunton Stephens