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Langdon Smith, 1858 – 1908

When you were a tadpole and I was a fish
In the Palaeozoic time,
And side by side, on the ebbing tide,
We sprawled through the ooze and slime,
Or skittered with many a caudal flip
Through the depths of the Cambrian fen,
My heart was rife with the joy of life,
For I loved you even then.

Mindless we lived and mindless we loved,
And mindless at last we died;
And deep in a rift of the Caradoc drift,
We slumbered side by side.
The world turned on in the lathe of Time,
The hot lands heaved amain,
Till we cought our breath from the womb of death,
And crept into light again.

We were Amphibians, scaled and tailed,
And drab as a dead man's hand:
We coiled at ease 'neath the dripping trees,
Or trailed through the mud and sand,
Croaking and blind, with our three-clawed feet,
Writing a language dumb,
With never a spark in the empty dark
To hint at a life to come.

Yet happy we lived and happy we loved,
And happy we died once more:
Our forms were rolled in the clinging mold
Of a Neocomian shore.
The æons came and the æons fled,
And the sleep that wrapped us fast
Was riven away in a newer day,
And the night of death was past.

Then light and swift through the jungle trees
We swung in our airy flights;
Or breathed in the balms of the fronded palms,
In the hush of the moonless nights.
And oh, what beautiful years were these,
When our hearts clung each to each;
When life was filled, and our senses thrilled
In the first faint dawn of speech!

Thus life by life, and love by love,
We passed through the cycles strange;
And breath by breath, and death by death,
We followed the chain of change;
Till there came a time in the law of life
When over the nursing sod
The shadows broke, and the soul awoke
In a strange, dim dream of God.

I was thewed like an Auroch bull,
And tusked like the great Cave Bear;
And you, my sweet, from head to feet,
Were gowned in your glorious hair.
Deep in the gloom of a fireless cave,
When the nights fell o'er the plain,
And the moon hung red o'er the river bed,
We mumbled the bones of the slain.

I flaked a flint to a cutting edge,
And shaped it with brutish craft:
I broke a shank from the woodland dank,
And fitted it, head to haft.
Then I hid me close to the reedy tarn,
Where the Mammoth came to drink:
Through brawn and bone I drave the stone,
And slew him upon the brink.

Loud I howled through the moonless wastes,
Loud answered our kith and kin:
From west and east to the crimson feast
The clan came trooping in.
O'er joint and gristle and padded hoof,
We fought and clawed and tore,
And cheek by jowl, with many a growl,
We talked the marvel o'er.

I carved that fight on a reindeer bone,
With rude and hairy hand:
I pictured his fall on the cavern wall,
That men might understand.
For we lived by blood, and the right of might,
Ere human laws were drawn,
And the Age of Sin did not begin
Till our brutal tusks were gone.

And that was a million years ago,
In a time that no man knows;
Yet here tonight, in the mellow light,
We sit at Delmonico's.
Your eyes are deep as the Devon springs,
Your hair as dark as jet:
Your years are few, your life is new,
Your soul untried, and yet —

Our trail is on the Kimmeridge clay,
And the scarp of the Purbeck flags:
We have left our bones in the Bagshot stones,
And deep in the Coralline crags.
Our love is old, our lives are old,
And death shall come amain:
Should it come today, what man may say
We shall not live again?

God wrought our souls from the Tremadoc beds,
And furnished them wings to fly:
He sowed our spawn in the world's dim dawn,
And I know that it shall not die;
Though cities have sprung above the graves
Where the crook-boned men made war,
And the ox-wain creeks o'er the buried caves,
Where the mummied Mammoths are.

For we know that the clod, by the grace of God,
Will quicken with voice and breath;
And we know that Love, with gentle hand,
Will beckon from death to death.
And so, as we linger at luncheon here,
Over many a dainty dish,
Let us drink anew to the time when you
Were a tadpole and I was a fish.

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