At Woodward's Gardens by Robert Frost

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1875 Elevated view of Mission Street entrance to Woodward's Gardens , with conservatory, museum and large portrait bust statue behind wnp71.0951.jpg

Entrance to Woodward's Gardens, 1875.

Photo: wnp71.0951

A boy, presuming on his intellect,

Once showed two little monkeys in a cage

A burning-glass they could not understand

And never could be made to understand.

Words are no good: to say it was a lens

For gathering solar rays would not have helped.

But let him show them how the weapon worked.

He made the sun a pinpoint on the nose

Of the first one, then the other, till it brought

A look of puzzled dimness to their eyes

That blinking could not seem to blink away.

They stood arms laced together at the bars,

And exchanged troubled glances over life.

One put a thoughtful hand up to his nose

As if reminded--or as if perhaps

Within a million years of an idea.

He got his purple little knuckles stung.

The already known had once more been confirmed

By psychological experiment,

And that were all the finding to announce

Had the boy not presumed too close and long.

There was a sudden flash of arm, a snatch,

And the glass was the monkey's, not the boy's.

Precipitately they retired back-cage

And instituted an investigation

On their part, though without the needed insight.

They bit the glass and listened for the flavor.

They broke the handle and the binding off it.

Then none the wiser, frankly gave it up,

And having hid it in their bedding straw

Against the day of prisoners' ennui,

Came dryly forward to the bars again

To answer for themselves:

Who said it mattered

What monkeys did or didn't understand?

They might not understand a burning-glass.

They might not understand the sun itself.

It's knowing what to do with things that counts.

by Robert Frost (1936)

Woodwards Gardens 1874 Etienne Buislays hot-air balloon Sierra Nevada. Balloon Ascension with crowds watching. wnp27.6101.jpg

1874 Etienne Buislays hot-air balloon "Sierra Nevada," crowds watch balloon ascension as part of the entertainment at Woodward's Gardens

Photo: wnp27.6101

Woodwards Gardens 1883 Distance view of a balloon ascension at Woodwards Gardens. Taken from near Ramona and 14th St. wnp71.2203.jpg

Distance view of a balloon ascension in 1883, taken from near Ramona and 14th Streets south over Woodward's Gardens.

Photo: wnp71.2203

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