A Tail of Long Ago

With a biscuit in my pocket and a hammer in my hand,
Chipping bits from the strata that were "cropping" o’er the land,
Wearied out, at length I rested, by a fracture fresh and new,
And gazed in languid humor at the thing it brought to view;
I had found an ancient casket that Agassiz e’en would hail,
When he saw beneath its cover that a ganoid curled his tail.

It was lying half embedded in its matrix in the stone,
And scintillating ‘round it, bright micaceous fragments shone;
And I thought of all the weary, sad, and slow revolving years,
Since the earth commenced her circling search for light among the spheres,
And the huge Ichthyosaurus must have felt his courage fail
In the turbulence around him when this ganoid curled his tail.

When from out the turbid ocean seethed an atmosphere of steam,
And the waves refused in darkness to reflect a single beam,
And barren rocks that dimly rose, like spectres from the waste,
Glared grimly for a little while, and disappeared in haste;
Melted down in heat and horror- even gneiss could not prevail,
In those liquidating eras when this ganoid curled his tail.

Check the onward march of Nature and reverse the wheels of time,
From the morn when Eden blossomed in its freshness and its prime,
Roll it backward, roll it backward- backward still and backward more,
Through cycles ‘til the effort strains the mind ‘til it is sore,
Still a nebula beyond you, down within the past’s dim veil,
Are the years unchronologic when this ganoid curled his tail.

And I thought of all the struggles we make with such ado,
To preserve our names from sinking for a century or two;
How the deeds of warrior, poet, stern philosopher or sage,
Are writ in brilliant letters on the Past’s historic page,
And the years the best have won is but a fabric frail,
By the grand, unnumbered eras when this ganoid curled his tail.

You’re satisfied with glory, and you think the thing is done,
If you perish in the conflict- when a marble bust is won.
Here’s a rival- look upon him- he’s not a carved ideal,
For a lime infusion keeps him still original and real.
The antiseptic properties of fame would prove but frail
Had you done your deeds of wonder when this ganoid curled his tail.

Perhaps in scaly armor, up and down those ancient seas,
Roamed he, with a restless appetite that nothing could appease,
Crushing shoals and hosts of being, every one of which that ran,
Would, in course of time and season, have "developed" up to man;
But "Fata sic profulgent" and we only may bewail
Our dear relations slaughtered when this ganoid curled his tail.

But it is a sad reflection- sad and stern enough for tears,
To know that blood and carnage trail along the track of years;
To know that Love and Peace and Mercy had not even then began
To sow the seeds of quiet for the future coming man.
And the cries of God’s first creatures were a universal wail
Of fierce and brutal conflict when this ganoid curled his tail.


From: Holmes, O.W., and others (1879) "Rhymes of Science - Wise and Otherwise," New York, Industrial Publishing Company, 67p.

Editors’ note: Written during the session of the American Association of the Advancement of Science at Louisville, Kentucky, in 1867. It appeared in the American Journal of Mining, February 15, 1868. We have been unable to discover more than the author’s initials: C.A.P.


Comments written in italics are explanatory and do not appear in the original copy of "Rhymes of Science - Wise and Otherwise" discovered by Geology student Jim Beal in old books destined for the trash heap at the University of Louisville in 1985. - RTH.

Handwritten in ink in the margin below this poem was the following statement:

"The writer of the above was Chas. A. Page of Louisville- He was born about 1830, was a son of Samuel K. Page, was highly educated, a small man- very melancholy and unsocial- a few friends to whom he was much attached. He wrote a good many verses, all of a playful and melancholy vein- marked by a gentle cynicism- very little personal energy or ambition. It was thought that he ate opium. He became insane, about 1870, and is now in the asylum."

Handwritten in pencil below this was the final statement:

"Died 1883."