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Poem by John Townsend Trowbridge


Filling an Order


TO Nature, in her shop one day, at work compounding simples,
Studying fresh tints for Beauty's cheeks, or new effects in dimples,
An order came: she wiped in haste her fingers and unfolded
The scribbled scrap, put on her specs, and read it, while she scolded.

"From Miss Columbia! I declare! of all the upstart misses!
What will the jade be asking next? Now what an order this is!

Where's Boston? Oh, that one-horse town out there beside the ocean!
She wantsof course, she always wantsanother little notion!

"This time, three geniuses, A I, to grace her favorite city:
The first a bard; the second wise; the third supremely witty;
None of the staid and hackneyed sort, but some peculiar flavor,
Something unique and fresh for each, will be esteemed a favor!
Modest demands! as if my hands had but to turn and toss over
A Poet veined with dew and fire, a Wit, and a Philosopher!

"But now let's see!" She put aside her old, outworn expedients,
And in a quite unusual way began to mix ingredients,
Some in the fierce retort distilled, some pounded by the pestle,

And set the simmering souls to steep, each in its glowing vessel.
In each, by turns, she poured, she stirred, she skimmed the shining liquor,
Threw laughter in, to make it thin, or thought, to make it thicker.
But when she came to choose the clay, she found, to her vexation,
That, with a stock on hand to fill an order for a nation,
Of that more finely tempered stuff, electric and ethereal,
Of which a genius must be formed, she had but scant material
For three? For one! What should be done? A bright idea struck her;
Her old witch-eyes began to shine, her mouth began to pucker.

Says she, "The fault, I'm well aware, with genius is the presence
Of altogether too much clay, with quite too little essence,
And sluggish atoms that obstruct the spiritual solution;
So now, instead of spoiling these by over-much dilution,
With their fine elements I'll make a single, rare phenomenon,
And of three common geniuses concoct a most uncommon one,
So that the world shall smile to see a soul so universal,
Such poesy and pleasantry, packed in so small a parcel."

So said, so done; the three in one she wrapped, and stuck the label:
Poet, Professor, Autocrat of Wit's own Breakfast-Table.



John Townsend Trowbridge


John Townsend Trowbridge's other poems:
  1. Dorothy in the Garret
  2. Old Man Gram
  3. Providence
  4. The Old Man of the Mountains under the Moon and Stars
  5. The Pewee


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