Excerpt from Darwin by Ruth Padel, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Darwin

A Life in Poems

by Ruth Padel

Darwin
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2009, 160 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2012, 160 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Marnie Colton

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Print Excerpt

More Funny Ideas About Grandeur

(from Chapter Four: Emma (1838-1851)

'To Emma, in case of my sudden death.
      I have just finished this sketch
of my species theory. If true, as I believe,
      it will be a considerable step
in science. My most solemn last request
      is that you devote 400 pounds
to its publication.'


'There is grandeur, if you look
      at every organic being
as the lineal successor of some other form,
      now buried under thousands of feet of rock.
Or else as a co-descendant, with that buried form,
      from some other inhabitant of this world
more ancient still, now lost.

Out of famine, death and struggle for existence,
      comes the most exalted end
we're capable of conceiving: creation
      of the higher animals!
Our first impulse is to disbelieve -
      how could any secondary law
produce organic beings, infinitely numerous,

characterized by most exquisite
      workmanship and adaptation?
Easier to say, a Creator designed each.
      But there is a simple grandeur in this view -
that life, with its power to grow, to reach, feel,
      reproduce, diverge, was breathed
into matter in a few forms first

and maybe only one. To say that while this planet
      has gone cycling on
according to fixed laws of gravity,
      from so simple an origin, through selection
of infinitesimal varieties, endless forms
      most beautiful and wonderful
have been, and are being, evolved.'

 

Salting the Seeds

(from Chapter Five: The coat of fur (1851-1882))

'Comparing seeds. Trying experiments
in salting them to see if they'd survive
floating across an ocean.'
To, for instance, the Galapagos.

'Have begun, at last, my species book. Shall call it
Natural Selection.' His secret step in argument.
Twenty years of evidence. Orchids, barnacles
and pigeons. The heart dances in its cave.
He meets the holes of his eyes in darkling glass
against the winter garden. No one awake.
Slow embers in the grate. The dog, a warm
white ammonite, curled
in her basket by his feet. Dawn fog dissolves
among the medlars into a wraith
you see, then lose, in the shape
of a running girl.

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Excerpted from Darwin by Ruth Padel. Copyright © 2009 by Ruth Padel. Excerpted by permission of Knopf. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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