I guess this is as good a place as any to note that today is Darwin's 205th birthday, and post my all-time favorite Darwin poem, but Ivy Warwick. It was originally published in the alas now defunct online magazine HMS Beagle:
Too late, dear brethren, too late to believe
there never was a rainbow before the Flood;
or that the ark, three hundred cubits long,
could contain millions of species.
I won't belabor the ark's low
narrow door versus a giraffe,
the whine of the two thousand
species of mosquito.
And the animals of the then-unknown
Australia and the New World?
Did they plunge into distant oceans,
two and two of all flesh -
snails and slugs, two and two,
slithering for centuries
from forgotten corners of the earth;
or, as the iron clouds
barred the heavens, gorillas and polar bears
parading through a Mesopotamian village . . .
And our fabled forefather, when the Lord
shut the door of the ark,
was six hundred years old.
The less believable it is,
the more enchanting it is.
The new theologians tell us
the myth isn't even Hebrew, but primeval:
purification of the world by water.
Purification by science
is another Deluge.
We know too much and not enough:
so many floods and so many doves -
One family, along with some livestock,
may have taken shelter in a houseboat.
But then there's no romance,
only another brutal story of survival.
Evolution is not crowned with rainbows.
I never wanted to destroy the ark.
Nor did I mean disrespect
to The Beagle's staunch captain, Mr. FitzRoy,
who read one chapter of the Bible before sleep
and one upon waking up.
Above all, I didn't want to offend
my dear Emma, my wife,
for whom life without faith
would be like forty years of rain and dark.
Listen how tenderly it is said, But the dove
found no rest for the sole of her foot . . .
then he put forth his hand, and took her,
and pulled her in unto him into the ark -
Believe me, I would have been content to stay
"a fly-catcher and a stone-pounder,"
as Captain FitzRoy used to say -
a modest naturalist, modestly renowned
for his monographs on barnacles
and on the habits of earthworms.
Brethren, I do not speak of Truth -
I offer evidence. I too
carry a heavy church in my heart.
The ship I sailed on for five years
was a kind of ark -
Noah and I, both of us
on a long, crowded journey
into the unforeseeable -
he with his rescued animals,
I with my specimens in jars.
It haunts me, that ancient tale -
that God did not uncreate
the world, did not say,
"Let there be no light."
No, God could not reverse creation
and fold the pulsing variety of being
back into Himself.
It took wholesale drowning,
even of every creeping thing
that creepeth upon the earth -
Brethren, behold the rainbow and be
at peace, but not too much at peace.
Rejoice in the fragile
moment when the dove
alighted with a glistening olive leaf.
But how can we forget
the faces of the drowned -
Perhaps in the future humanity will find
a more noble idea of God.
Now the windows of heaven are shut;
all we have is stories.
Today let us then honor
our father Noah,
drifting with the saved
seed of life toward Ararat.
Forgive me, old Patriarch.
Ivy Warwick was born in Poland and moved to the United States at the age of 17. Her poetry has won several awards, and has been widely published in literary magazines, including Poetry; Best American Poetry 1992; Ploughshares; The Iowa Review; The Prairie Schooner, Texas Review, and Southern Poetry Review - she has also had her translations of Polish poetry published. She has published a book, Hormones Without Fear (College Pharmacy, 1997), and for two years was the publisher of an e-newsletter, CyberHealth. She is currently a staff writer for the Life Extension Foundation and teaches creative writing and literature at Miracosta College in Oceanside, California. She still writes an occasional poem.
I'm still holding out for gill people who live under the sea - pineapple optional.
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