Sea-Change all the way
‘What’s the good of Mercators, North Poles and Equators,
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?’
So the Bellman would cry and the crew would reply.
They are merely conventional signs!’
Lewis Carroll. ‘The Hunting of the Snark.’
‘Besides a general interest about the southern lands, I have now ever since my return engaged in a very presumptuous work, and I know no one individual who would not say a very foolish one. I was so struck with the distribution of the Galapagos organisms, &cc. &cc., and with the character of the American fossil mammifiers, &cc. &cc., that I determined to collect blindly every sort of fact, which could bear any way on what are species. I have read heaps of agricultural and horticultural books, and have never ceased collecting facts. At last gleams of light have come, and I am almost convinced (quite contrary to the opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable.’ (‘Life and Letters.’ P 384. Published John Murray..)
Charles Darwin, ‘Autobiography.’
‘In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under theses circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here, then I had last got a theory by which to work; but I was so anxious to avoid prejudice, that I determined not for some time to write even the briefest sketch of it. In June1842 I first allowed myself the satisfaction of writing a very brief abstract of my theory in pencil in 35 pages; and this was enlarged during the summer of 1844 into one of 250 pages, which I had fairly copied and still possess.’ (Autobiography, PP118-122.)
The Evolution of Birds.
Making do with what’s in hand,
In this case ‘hands,’ –
Used to be ‘legs’ but they became
Useless little arms
With claw appendage, the kind
You find on odd marsupials like kangaroos,
And on that two-legged oddity
Of the Jurassic, Dinosaur Therapod.
By God! There’s a black swan development
If ever there was one.
Fossils unearthed in limestone quarries
By homo sapien with evolutionary tools –
Stone axes won’t do it –
Record the evolution of the therapod hand
From flexing wrist of Velociraptor to
Unenlagia’s wing-like flaps and
Primitive feathers of Caudipteryx,
Say, there’s a giant step for birds.
Then the momentous uncovering of
Flight feathers on Fossil Archaeoterix
And we have lift-off!
A new successful species. Praise be
To tricky Nature for the evolution
Of birds! Lords of the air, of updraft
And perilous tumbling,
Of utterance of sweet song, of joy
To the world and tremulous longing,
Of feathers rivaling in pattern and profusion
The spangled universe, touching the imagination
Of homo sapien, inspiring the visionary words
Of poets, expressive of delights and lamentations
Of mature lovers and yearning dreams of adolescence
Cockatoo funereus, your mournful cry – keee aah,
Bespeaks the long history of ancestors,
Of Pangea and the shifting of continents,
Of separation from exotic kin, the flashy
Macaw cousins from Brazil.
Black cockatoo, in appearance you exemplify
The platonic fallacy of the perfect form of things,
Of birds, your helmet crest, remnant of dinosaur origin.
Your awkward form, less defined than
The shape of more dazzling kin,
Of sulphur crested epigone. Your slow moving
Heavy flight, precursing the dalliance of eagles.
Your diet befitting mourning.
Not for you the nectar of sweet blossoms.
Instead, hard-crack seeds, fruit of hard times.
From narrow-leafed trees of adversity.
At dusk a flock of funereus choose the tops of trees
To roost in –jungian response to memories of tree-top
Foraging by dinosaur predators. You thrum your insecurity
In reassuring chorus until, exhausted, you sleep.
Do you then dream of your ancestors.
The Swan. Charles Baudelaire.
‘Andromache, I think of you! – That little stream
That mirror, poor and sad, which glittered long ago
With the vast majesty of your widow’s grieving,
That false Simois swollen by your tears,
Suddenly made fruitful my teeming memory,
As I walked across the new Carrousel
-Old Paris is no more (the form of a city
Changes more quickly, alas! Than the human heart);
I see only in memory that camp of stalls,
Those pile of shafts, of rough hewn cornices, the grass,
The huge stone blocks stained green in puddles of water,
And in the windows shine the jumbled bric-a-brac.
Once a menagerie was set up there;
There, one morning at the hour when Labor awakens,
Beneath the clear, cold sky when the dismal hubbub
Of street-cleaners and scavengers breaks the silence,
I saw a swan that had escaped from his cage,
That stroked the dry pavement with his webbed feet
And dragged his white plumage over the uneven ground.
Beside a dry gutter the bird opened his beak,
Restlessly bathed his wings in the dust
And cried, homesick for his native lake:
“Rain, when will you fall? Thunder, when will you roll?”
I see that hapless bird, that strange and fateful myth,
Toward the sky at times. Like the man in Ovid,
Towards the ironic, cruelly blue sky,
Stretch his avid hand upon his quivering neck,
As if he were reproaching God.’
Charles Darwin, ‘Autobiography.’
…‘But at that time I had overlooked one problem of great Importance; and it is astonishing to me, except on the principle of Columbus and his egg, how I could have overlooked it and its solution. This is the tendency in organic beings descended from the same stock to diverge in character and become modified. That they have diverged greatly is obvious from the manner in which species of all kinds can be classed under genera, genera under families, families under sub-orders and so forth; and I can remember the very spot in the road whilst in my carriage, when to my joy the solution occurred to me; … The solution, as I believe, is that modified offspring of all dominant and increasing forms tend to become adapted to many and highly diversified places in the economy of nature.’
In the Marble Quarry. James Dickey.
‘Beginning to dangle beneath
The wind that blows from the undermined wood,
I feel the great pulley grind,
The thread I cling to lengthen
And let me soaring and spinning down into marble,
Hooked and weightlessly happy
Where the squared sun shines
Back equally from all four sides, out of stone
And years of dazzling labor,
To land at last among men
Who cut with power saws a Parian whiteness
And chewing slow tobacco,
Their eyebrows like frost,
Shunt house-sized blocks and lash them to cables
And send them heavenward
Into small-town banks,
Into the columns and statues of government buildings,
But mostly graves.
I mount my monument and rise
Slowly and spinningly from the white-gloved men
Toward the hewn sky
Out of the basement of light,
Sadly, lifted through time’s blinding layers
On perhaps my tombstone
In which the original shape
Michelangelo believed was in every rock upon earth
Is heavily stirring.
Surprised to be an angel,
To be waked in North Georgia by the ponderous play
Of men with ten ton blocks
But no more surprised than I
To feel sadness fall off as though I myself
Were rising from stone
Held by a thread in midair,
Badly cut, local-looking, and totally uninspired,
Not a masterwork.
Charles Darwin Origin’s of Species’ final paragraph.
‘It is interesting to contemplate a tangled 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 dependant 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 conditions of life, and from use and disuse: a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead for 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 by the creator into a few forms or into one; and that, while this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed laws of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.’
Camille Saint –Saens, ‘ The Carnival of The Animals,’ with Ogden Nash narrative, not the unavailable Noel Coward version but I quite like the children and animals looking at each other.