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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

On an Intaglio Head of Minerva

By Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836–1907)

BENEATH the warrior’s helm, behold

The flowing tresses of the woman!

Minerva, Pallas, what you will—

A winsome creature, Greek or Roman.

Minerva? No! ’tis some sly minx

In cousin’s helmet masquerading;

If not—then Wisdom was a dame

For sonnets and for serenading!

I thought the goddess cold, austere,

Not made for love’s despairs and blisses:

Did Pallas wear her hair like that?

Was Wisdom’s mouth so shaped for kisses?

The Nightingale should be her bird,

And not the Owl, big-eyed and solemn:

How very fresh she looks, and yet

She’s older far than Trajan’s Column!

The magic hand that carved this face,

And set this vine-work round it running,

Perhaps ere mighty Phidias wrought

Had lost its subtle skill and cunning.

Who was he? Was he glad or sad,

Who knew to carve in such a fashion?

Perchance he graved the dainty head

For some brown girl that scorned his passion.

Perchance, in some still garden-place,

Where neither fount nor tree to-day is,

He flung the jewel at the feet

Of Phryne, or perhaps ’twas Laïs.

But he is dust; we may not know

His happy or unhappy story:

Nameless, and dead these centuries,

His work outlives him—there’s his glory!

Both man and jewel lay in earth

Beneath a lava-buried city;

The countless summers came and went

With neither haste, nor hate, nor pity.

Years blotted out the man, but left

The jewel fresh as any blossom,

Till some Visconti dug it up—

To rise and fall on Mabel’s bosom!

O nameless brother! see how Time

Your gracious handiwork has guarded:

See how your loving, patient art

Has come, at last, to be rewarded.

Who would not suffer slights of men,

And pangs of hopeless passion also,

To have his carven agate-stone

On such a bosom rise and fall so!