The Power of Science

Original Text: 
Stephens, J. Brunton, Convict Once and Other Poems (Melbourne and Sydney: George Robertson & Co., 1888): 214-219.
1"All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
2   Whatever stirs this mortal frame,"
3Are but the legacies of apes,
5How oft in studious hours do I
6   Recall those moments, gone too soon,
7When midway in the hall I stood,
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.
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;
20     The azure of her hose.
21Few virtues had she of her own--
22   She borrowed them from time and space;
24     Post-tertiary her place.
25The Irish Elk that near us stood,
27Scarce dwarfed her; while I bowed beneath
28     Her stately overplus.
30   Her palæozoic date of birth,
31For these to a scientific eye
32     Had scientific worth.
33She had some crotchets of her own,
35She loved me best when I would sing
36     Her ape-descent and mine.
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.
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,
80     I sang the missing link.
81And when I spake of vanished kin,
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.
90   How insect-brides are sought and got;
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,
113I strove to calm her down; she grew
114   Serener and serener;
115And so I won my Gwendoline,


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. Back to Line
8] Dichobune: mammal of the middle Eocene. Back to Line
13] Glyptodon: extinct South American mammal, linked to the armadillo but much larger, and with fluted teeth. Back to Line
19] Pallas: Greek Athena, goddess of the arts, war and wisdom. Back to Line
23] eocene: 55-38 million years ago. Back to Line
26] Megaceros Hibernicus: extinct after the last ice age. Back to Line
29] pre-diluvian: from before (Noah's) flood. Back to Line
34] viviparous: capable of bearing offspring. Back to Line
37] pansophic: relating universal knowledge. Back to Line
69] marsupials: mammals that nurse offspring in an abdominal pouch, such as a kangaroo. Back to Line
79] threnody: dirge, song of sorrow. Back to Line
82] Simian: ape-like. Back to Line
89] Hymenoptera: order of insect, including the wasp, in which females have an ovipositor (egg-deposit tube) which they double as a sting. Back to Line
91] stridulation: shrill grating sound. Back to Line
111] asthmas: moments in which breathing is difficult. Back to Line
112] marmosette: small squirrel-sized monkey, often made into pets. Back to Line
116] congener: mate, creature of same kind. Back to Line
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: