Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > American
The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. I–V: American
To the Pliocene Skull
By Bret Harte (1836–1902)
A Geological Address

From “Complete Poetical Works”

“SPEAK, Oh, man, less recent! Fragmentary fossil!
Primal pioneer of pliocene formation,
Hid in lowest drifts below the earliest stratum
        Of volcanic tufa!
“Older than the beasts, the oldest Palæotherium;        5
Older than the trees, the oldest Cryptogamy;
Older than the hills, those infantile eruptions
        Of earth’s epidermis!
“Eo—Mio—Plio—whatsoe’er the ‘cene’ was
That those vacant sockets filled with awe and wonder—        10
Whether shores Devonian or Silurian beaches—
        Tell us thy strange story!
“Or has the professor slightly antedated
By some thousand years thy advent on this planet,
Giving thee an air that’s somewhat better fitted        15
        For cold-blooded creatures?
“Wert thou true spectator of that mighty forest
When above thy head the stately Sigillaria
Reared its columned trunks in that remote and distant
        Carboniferous epoch?        20
“Tell us of that scene—the dim and watery woodland
Songless, silent, hushed, with never bird or insect,
Veiled with spreading fronds and screened with tall club-mosses,
“When beside thee walked the solemn Plesiosaurus,        25
And around thee crept the festive Ichthyosaurus,
While from time to time above thee flew and circled
        Cheerful Pterodactyls.
“Tell us of thy food—those half-marine refections,
Crinoids on the shell and Brachiopods au naturel        30
Cuttlefish to which the pieuvre of Victor Hugo
        Seems a periwinkle.
“Speak, thou awful vestige of the Earth’s creation—
Solitary fragment of remains organic!
Tell the wondrous secret of thy past existence—        35
        Speak! thou oldest primate!”
Even as I gazed, a thrill of the maxilla,
And a lateral movement of the condyloid process,
With post-pliocene sounds of healthy mastication,
        Ground the teeth together.        40
And, from that imperfect dental exhibition,
Stained with expressed juices of the weed Nicotian,
Came these hollow accents, blent with softer murmurs
        Of expectoration:
“Which my name is Bowers, and my crust was busted        45
Falling down a shaft in Calaveras County,
But I’d take it kindly if you’d send the pieces
        Home to old Missouri!”

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