At a Reading
by Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-1907)
The spare professor, grave and bald,
Began his paper. It was called,
I think, “A Brief Historic Glance
At Russia, Germany, and France.”
A glance, but to my best belief
’T was almost anything but brief–
A wide survey, in which the earth
Was seen before mankind had birth;
Strange monsters basked them in the sun,
Behemoth, armored glyptodon,
And in the dawn’s unpractised ray
The transient dodo winged its way;
Then, by degrees, through slit and slough,
We reached Berlin—I don’t know how.
The good Professor’s monotone
Had turned me into senseless stone
Instanter, but that near me sat
Hypatia in her new spring hat,
Blue-eyed, intent, with lips whose bloom
Lighted the heavy-curtained room.
Hypatia—ah, what lovely things
Are fashioned out of eighteen springs!
At first, in sums of this amount,
The eighteen winters do not count.
Just as my eyes were growing dim
With heaviness, I saw that slim,
Erect, elastic figure there,
Like a pond-lily taking air.
She looked so fresh, so wise, so neat,
So altogether crisp and sweet,
I quite forgot what Bismarck said,
And why the Emperor shook his head,
And how it was Von Moltke’s frown
Cost France another frontier town.
The only facts I took away
From the Professor’s theme that day
Were these: a forehead broad and low,
Such as antique sculptures show;
A chin to Greek perfection true;
Eyes of Astarte’s tender blue;
A high complection without fleck
Or flaw, and curls about her neck.