Poetry of Kansas

The Fate of a Genius

Among the New York hills, in a land of snow and sleet,
Where the folks plow down to hard-pan to sow their rye and
            wheat,
Where the children climb the steeps as they trudge away to
            school,
There dwelt a toiling genius, whom his neighbors called a
            fool.
 
The puzzle and the wonder of all the country town,
His name was-well, no matter-suppose we call him Brown.
His form was bowed and shaky, he talked with hollow
            sound;
And when he walked he always kept his eyes upon the
            ground.
 
He had daughters, he had sons, and to them did this befall:
From the good folks in the Bible he named them, one and all.
They were Abraham and Jacob, Mattbew, Mark and Jere-
           miah,
There were Rachel and Rebecca, Peter, Job and Hezekiah.
 
They lived and grew in spite of the ancient names they
            bore;
They ate-when they could get it-and swarmed about the
            door,
Like other people's children; yet shadows o'er them hung,
And oft were they assailed by the scorn of taunting toiigue.
 
I have told you how the neighbors said their father was a fool,
And thus on their young heads fell the shafts of ridicule.
They were ragged and neglected, their days were glum and
            drear,
With their mother always sad, and their father was always
            poor.
 
And this was what did ail him: he had a settled notion
That he was called and sent to invent perpetual motion.
This was his one idea; and so it came to pass,
That his children oft went hungry and his farming went--
            to grass.
 
He shut himself apart, with bolts and bars and screens,
In a dingy little den, where lie built his droll machines.
Unearthly combinations beneath his hands did grow;
But one thing always ailed them--'twas this, they wouldn't
            go,
 
The wife (poor woman!) died.  She had borne the load of
            two;
But her weary work was over, her cheerless journey through.
The children, one by one, left the ancestral door,
With their old and ancient names for their only stock and
            store.
 
Still the old man toiled and pondered.   His hair grew thin
            and gray;
Lower he stooped and lower, as the years they slipped away;
He poorer grew and poorer, till not a cent lie had;
And his eye grew mild and milder;--At last old Brown went
            mad.
 
But his madness had it's method. And his darkened brain
Still groped the one idea that had been his curse and bane.
In a dazed and absent fashion lie talked of wheels and
            bands,
And whittled wooden pulleys with his long and bony hands.
 
The poor old man lay dying;-'twas a stormy winter night;
0'er his forhead, cold and damp, strayed his locks so thin
            and white.
As his feet slipped down the bank where the silent river flows,
He smiled and faintly whispered,--"I've got it--now it
            goes!"

Walls of Corn and Other Poems
Ellen P. Allerton
(Hiawatha, KS: Harrington Printing Company. 1894)
Pages 153-155

 
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July 17, 2004 / John & Susan Howell / Wichita, Kansas / howell@kotn.org

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