Darwin's Bards: British and American Poetry in the Age of Evolution

By John Holmes | Go to book overview

Conclusion

At the end of The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin famously declares ‘There is grandeur in this view of life’ ([1859] 2003: 398). Tennyson and Meredith surely bear this out in their poems. But the poetry of Darwinism yields us more than grandeur alone. It brings into focus the spiritual, moral and psychological questions that the Darwinian condition forces us to ask. Through poetry, we can confront what it might mean to live in a purely material universe, if that is indeed the fate to which Darwinism consigns us. We can probe our own need for spiritual comfort and consolation and explore how that need might be answered within the Darwinian universe, whether by God or without him. We can enlarge too our sense of how, in Philip Appleman’s words, ‘to be,/knee-deep in these rivers of innocent blood,/a decent animal’ (‘The Voyage Home’, V, 11. 42–4). We can reach across the divide that separates us from other animals. We can even hold science itself to account.

I want to close this book with one last poem that encapsulates the function of poetry in the Darwinian age. This is ‘Kew Gardens’, by the South-African born Scottish poet D. M. Black, written in memory of Ian A. Black, who died in 1971:

Distinguished scientist, to whom I greatly defer
(old man, moreover, whom I dearly love)
I walk today in Kew Gardens, in sunlight the colour of honey
which flows from the cold autumnal blue of the heavens to light these
tans and golds,

these ripe corn and leather and sunset colours of the East Asian
liriodendrons,

of the beeches and maples and plum-trees and the stubborn green banks
of the holly hedges–
and you walk always beside me, you with your knowledge of names
and your clairvoyant gaze, in what for me is sheer panorama
seeing the net or web of connectedness. But today it is I who speak
(and you are long dead, but it is to you I say it):

-260-

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Darwin's Bards: British and American Poetry in the Age of Evolution
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Preface x
  • 1- Poetry in the Age of Darwin 1
  • 2- Poetry and the ‘Non-Darwinian Revolution’ 37
  • 3- God 75
  • 4- Death 102
  • 5- Humanity’s Place in Nature 130
  • 6- Humans and Other Animals 154
  • 7- Love and Sex 185
  • 8- On Balance 226
  • Conclusion 260
  • Bibliography 263
  • Index 283
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