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To the Pliocene Skull


"Speak, O 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 Palaeotherium; Older than the trees, the oldest Cryptogami; 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,-- 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 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?

"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, Lycopodiacea,--

"When beside thee walked the solemn Plesiosaurus, 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 Brachipods au naturel,-- 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,-- 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.

And from that imperfect dental exhibition, Stained with express 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 Falling down a shaft in Calaveras County; But I'd take it kindly if you'd send the pieces Home to old Missouri!"

NOTE: THE PLIOCENE SKULL. This extraordinary fossil is in the possession of Prof. Josiah D. Whitney, of the State Geological Survey of California. The poem was based on the following paragraph from the daily press of 1868: "A human skull has been found in California, in the pliocene formation. This skull is the remnant not only of the earliest pioneer of this State, but the oldest known human being. . . . The skull was found in a shaft 150 feet deep, two miles from Angels in Calaveras County, by a miner named James Watson, who gave it to Mr. Scribner, a merchant, who gave it to Dr. Jones, who sent it to the State Geological Survey. . . . The published volume of the State Survey of the Geology of California states that man existed here contemporaneously with the mastodon, but this fossil proves that he was here before the mastodon was known to exist."

Bret Harte

I: National

II: Spanish Idyls and Legends

III: In Dialect

IV: Miscellaneous

V: Parodies

VI: Songs Without Sense

VII: Little Posterity

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