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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Elegy on a Shell—the Nautilus

By Samuel Latham Mitchill (1764–1831)

I SAW thee, beauteous form,

As late I walked the oceanic strand,

And as my curiosity was warm,

I took thee in my hand.

Soon I discovered, a terrific storm,

Which nothing human could command,

Had robbed thee of thy life and cast thee on the sand.

Thou wast a house with many chambers fraught,

Built by a Nautilus or Argonaut,

With fitness, symmetry, and skill,

To suit the owner’s taste and sovereign will.

In curves of elegance thy shape appears,

Surpassing art through centuries of years,

By tints and colors brilliant made,

And all,—the finished workman has displayed.

In life thy home was near Manilla’s shore,

Where on the bottom groves of coral grow,

And when aweary of thy seat below,

Thee and thy architect the flood uplifted bore.

Then on the surface of the placid wave,

With guiding oars and elevated sail,

Thou didst enjoy the pleasure-breathing gale,

And in the sea thy healthy body lave.

To thee allied is many a splendid shell,

In which a fair Mollusca used to dwell,

Such as the Harpa, marked with chorded signs,

The Musica, with imitative lines,

The Cowry, with its spots and figures gay,

The Cone, distinguished by its rich array,

The smooth Volute, that glossy beauty bears,

The prized Scalaria, with its winding stairs,

The Murex, famous for its purple dye,

The Trochus, dressed to captivate the eye,

And Buccinum and Strombus, taught to sound

Their signal notes to every region round.

These sorts and more, through rich museums spread,

Are vacant dwellings, and their tenants dead,

And though there’s not an occupant alive,

The well cemented tenements survive.

So man erects in sumptuous mode

A structure proud for his abode,

But knows not, when of life bereft,

Who’ll creep within the shell he left.