Poems on Charles Darwin

From British daily The Morning Star:

Darwin in verse: the bottom line

Tuesday 21 April 2009

by Andy Croft

How mixing poetry and science helps us better understand the world

PLATO banished poets from his utopian Republic. Wordsworth declared that “Our meddling intellect/Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things/We murder to dissect.”

Common sense tells us that science and imagination, reason and poetry represent different – if not antagonistic – ways of looking at the world.

Three books of poetry published to mark the bicentenary of Darwin‘s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin Of Species suggest that, on the contrary, both science and poetry require a proper sense of wonder and humility if we are to understand the world.

The Darwin family has included a remarkable number of poets – including Frances Cornford, Erasmus Darwin and the Communist poet John Cornford. Now the award-winning poet Ruth Padel has written the story of her great-great grandfather’s life in Darwin: A Life in Poems (Chatto, £12.99).

It is without question her best book to date, a fascinating, entertaining and often moving account of the public scientist and the private man. The poems dealing with the conflict between Darwin’s religious faith and his scientific convictions are especially good, as we watch him understand the “violence under the bright surface” of the natural world – “Out of famine, death and struggle for existence/comes the most exalted end/we’re capable of conceiving: creation/of the higher animals!”

It is also a book about the competing empires of reason and force. Setting her story against the bloody narrative of Victorian England, Padel shows the British Empire reach its limits in Afghanistan at the very moment that its ideological foundations were being undermined by science.

“Man thinks himself, in his arrogance, a great work/and worthy a Deity’s glance. More humble/and true, I’d assert – to think him created, not handbox new but slowly. From this. From the animals/Once you have granted one species may change/to another, the whole fabric totters and fails.”

Marx and Darwin: Two great revolutionary thinkers of the nineteenth century. Part 1: here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 3 is here.

See also here.

2 thoughts on “Poems on Charles Darwin

  1. Pingback: Wallace, Darwin and evolution | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Wallace, Darwin and evolution | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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