To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Reconfiguring Romanticism (24): Charles Darwin, from The Origin of Species

On the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth (February 12, 1809), the following is the closing paragraph of On the Origin of Species as reprinted in Poems for the Millennium, volume 3, The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry, in the section called “A Book of Origins.” We take it as a meditation – practically a prose poem – on the poetics of evolution and include it there to heal the breech, if it ever existed, between poetry & science.

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

True enough, but also read the bit that Robert Bly quotes from Darwin's Notebooks in his collection News of the Universe. That is more important to think about, however beautiful "this view of life" may be (and is).