Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
The Professor Muses
By Howard Mumford Jones
From “University Sketches”

Physics Lecture Room—before Class

  I am afraid, O Lord, I am afraid!
  These instruments so curiously formed,
This dynamo and meter, that machine
Cunning to grasp and hold with delicate hands
Your unchained lightnings … Lord, I am afraid—        5
Here in the empty silence of my room!
  This lecture hall is oddly like a mouth—
Myself the tongue in it, myself the voice,
Shrill, thin across the empty chairs—how queer,
How skeleton-like appear these empty chairs!        10
Blank walls, blank platform (ineffectual things)
And bleak, bare windows where the startled day
On tiptoe stands, too lovely to come in….
A mouth it seems, a maw, huge, grim, slow, sure
Some day to close and crush me!
                    Lord, Lord, Lord,
Am I the thing the daylight falters from,
Spinning my dusty web of dusty words
To catch the plunging star we call the world,
Hanging it so a period? Fool, twice fool,
Who spider-like weave cosmic theories        20
In gossamer nets to trap the universe!
Spun but to tear a thousand tattered ways
And hang on every lilac, if a girl—
A red-lipped, shallow, care-free freshman girl—
Laugh at the sallies of a boy!        25
Problems of sound and light, of light and sound,
Experiments, materials, theories,
The laws of motion, problems of sound and light,
Problems of sound and light….        30
                    And presently
A gong will ring here like a doomsday bell
And through these doors, like winds that shake the woods,
Sons of the wind and daughters of the dawn,
Eternal, joyous, unafraid, comes youth:        35
Youth from a million colored realms of joy,
Youth storming up the world with flying hair
And laughter like a rose-red deluge spilled
Down dawn-lit heavens, burning all the sea!
  Problems of light and sound!… Why, what care they,        40
These bright-eyed Chloes of our later date
For theories of sound—themselves the sound,
Themselves the light that brightens all the day?
  Round every corner flits a flying foot,
Alluring laughter shaken fancy-free        45
In silver bells that break upon the air …
Evoe—evoe! Pan and the nymphs! With lips
Parted, and sparkling eyes, the young men follow—
Follow the swift-foot, laughter-loving nymphs
Whose eye-lids hold the world! Problems of light,        50
Problems of light—I am sick of light and sound!
  Youth storming up the world! Hot, eager youth—
Youth with a question ever on its lips,
Impatient of the answer! youth with eyes
Implacable, remorseless, passionless,        55
Crying, “I thirst divinely—quench my thirst!”
Crying, “I thirsted and ye helped me not!”
And brushing past me. Amperes, dynamos,
Questions of voltage, coils, transformers, watts—
Shall these things reach them, teach them to be wise,        60
Temperate, noble? Surely greater texts
Lie in the lips and laughter of young girls,
Who look at me with pity scarce concealed
And curious wonder—me the dusty spider
Spinning my web in this obdurate room,        65
While eager tongues can scarcely pause an hour
From ripples of speech.
              Ah, Lord, I am afraid!
For when I think to have them they elude me,
And when I guess it not, then have I taught.        70
Teach me, O Lord, and strengthen me—Thou knowest
I am afraid and weak … I am afraid!

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