The Finding of the Lyre

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The Finding of the Lyre  (1869) 
by James Russell Lowell
Once a year my pupils teach me "The Finding of the Lyre." By the time I have learned it they know the meaning of every line and have caught the spirit of the verse. There is an ancient "lyre," or violin, made in northern Africa, in the possession of a Boston lady, and I have found the mud-turtle rattle among the Indians on the Indian reservation at Syracuse, New York. They use it as a musical instrument in their Thanksgiving dances. The poem helps to build an interest in history and mythology while it develops a child's reverence and insight. (1819-91.)

    There lay upon the ocean's shore
    What once a tortoise served to cover;
    A year and more, with rush and roar,
    The surf had rolled it over,
    Had played with it, and flung it by,
    As wind and weather might decide it,
    Then tossed it high where sand-drifts dry
    Cheap burial might provide it.

    It rested there to bleach or tan,
    The rains had soaked, the sun had burned it;
    With many a ban the fisherman
    Had stumbled o'er and spurned it;
    And there the fisher-girl would stay,
    Conjecturing with her brother
    How in their play the poor estray
    Might serve some use or other.

    So there it lay, through wet and dry,
    As empty as the last new sonnet,
    Till by and by came Mercury,
    And, having mused upon it,
   "Why, here," cried he, "the thing of things
    In shape, material, and dimension!
    Give it but strings, and, lo, it sings,
    A wonderful invention!"

    So said, so done; the chords he strained,
    And, as his fingers o'er them hovered,
    The shell disdained a soul had gained,
    The lyre had been discovered.
    O empty world that round us lies,
    Dead shell, of soul and thought forsaken,
    Brought we but eyes like Mercury's,
    In thee what songs should waken!