The Antiquarian.

A poem by Hattie Howard

Millions have been and passed from view
Benignity who never knew;
No aspiration theirs, nor aim;
Existence soulless as the clay
From whence they sprang, what right have they
To eulogy or fame?

So multitudes have been forgot -
But drones or dunces, good for naught;
Like clinging parasites or burrs
Taking from others all they dared,
Yet little they for others cared
Except as pilferers.

Not so with that majestic man
The all-round antiquarian -
No model his nor parallel;
From selfishness inviolate
Are his achievements good and great,
And thus shall ages tell.

A love for the antiquities
His honest hold, his birthright is!
And things unheard of or unread,
Defaced by moth or rust or mold,
To him are treasures more than gold,
Ay, than his daily bread.

At neither ghost nor ghoul aghast
He echoes voices of the past,
And tones like melancholy knells
Of years departed to his ear
Are sweeter than of kindred dear,
Sweeter than Florimel's.

He delves through centuries of dust
To resurrect some unknown bust,
A torso, or a goddess whole;
Maybe like Venus, minus arms -
Haply to find those missing charms;
But not the lost, lost soul.

He dotes on aborigines
Who lived in caves and hollow trees,
And barters for their trinkets rare;
Exchanging with those dusky breeds
For arrow-heads and shells and beads
A scalplock of his hair.

Had he been born - thus he laments -
Along with other great events,
Coeval say with Noah's flood,
A proud relationship to trace
With Hittites - or with any race
Of blue archaic blood!

Much he adores that Pilgrim flock,
The same that split old Plymouth rock,
Their "Bay Psalm" when they tried to sing.
Devoid of metre, sense, and tune,
Who but a Puritanic loon
Could have devised the thing?

He revels in a pedigree,
The sprouting of a noble tree
'Way back in prehistoric times;
And for the "Family Record" true
Of scions all that ever grew
Would give a billion dimes.

There is a language fossils speak:
'Tis not like Latin, much less Greek,
But quite as dead and antiquate
Its silent syllables, and cold;
But ah, what meanings they unfold,
What histories relate!

The earthquake is his best ally -
It shows up things he cannot buy,
And gives him raw material
For making mastodons and such,
Enough to beat that ancient "Dutch
Republic's Rise and Fall."

A piece of bone can never lie:
A rib, a femur, or a thigh
Is but a dislocated sign
Of something hybrid, half and half
Betwixt a crocodile and calf -
Maybe a porcupine.

The stately "Antiquarium"
Is his emporium, his home.
He wonders if when he is gone
Will people look with mournful pride
On him done up and classified,
And the right label on.

He dreams of an emblazoned page,
The calendar of every age
Down from Creation's primal dawn;
With archetypes of spears and bones,
And tons of undeciphered stones
Its illustrations drawn.

Labor a blessing, not a curse,
His hunting ground the Universe,
So much the more his nature craves
To sound the fathoms of the sea:
What mighty wonders there must be
Down in those hidden caves!

So toils this dauntless man, alert
Amid the ruins and the dirt,
That other men to endless day
Themselves uplifted from the clod
May see, and learn and know that God
Is greater far than they.

And thus, of mighty ken and plan,
The all-round antiquarian
Pursues his happy ministry;
And on the world's progressive track
Advances, always going back -
Back to antiquity.

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