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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Bret Harte (1836–1902)

To the Pliocene Skull

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;

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—

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,


“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 Brachiopods 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 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

Falling down a shaft in Calaveras County,

But I’d take it kindly if you’d send the pieces

Home to old Missouri!”