Darwin’s Tangled Bank in verse

My daughter has to memorize a poem for a school performance, and asked me if I knew a good poem about nature. There are, of course, many good ones, but I really wanted her to have the most poetic thing ever written about nature – the last paragraph of Darwin’s Origin of Species – rendered in verse. So I gave it a try.

 

The Tangled Bank

Contemplate a tangled bank
Clothed with many kinds of plant
Insects and birds flitting about
Worms crawling through the damp

Reflect that these elaborate
And differently constructed forms
Have been produced by such a simple set
Of ever acting norms

Growth, reproduction and inheritance
Variation to transmit
Natural selection then leading to
Extinction of the less fit

From the war of nature
From famine and from death
Follow the most exalted species
To have ever drawn a breath

There is grandeur in this view of life
And its powers not yet gone
Having been originally breathed
Into a few forms or just one

From as simple a beginning
As could ever be resolved
Endless forms most beautiful
Are continuously evolved.

 

Here’s the original:

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.

 

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9 Comments

  1. Posted December 4, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    If Darwin wrote a blogge, no one would fucken read it with all that convoluted sentence structure and shitte.

  2. Posted December 5, 2012 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    Should your daughter need to memorize *two* evolution poems, there’s also this one by David Maddison, published today in Systematic Biology (advanced access):
    http://sysbio.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/12/04/sysbio.sys057.full

  3. Posted December 5, 2012 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    Bravo! I’ve always felt that Darwin wanted to conclude Origin in verse, but for some reason restrained himself.

    May I offer a variation on the second to last stanza?

    There is grandeur in this view of life
    With its several powers that have grown
    From but a few forms, in all earth’s cycles,
    Or perhaps from only one, alone.

  4. Posted December 5, 2012 at 1:25 am | Permalink

    Hmm. Maybe a bit clumsy in the third line. How about :

    There is grandeur in this view of life
    With its several powers that have grown
    From chance few forms, in all earth’s cycles,
    Or perhaps from only one, alone.

  5. S
    Posted December 5, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I recommend the version by Russell Neches, because “gone” and “one” don’t rhyme (but “grown” and “alone” do).

  6. Abhinav
    Posted December 12, 2012 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    Wow.

  7. Adriana
    Posted December 23, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Please find a children’s illustrator to design something around this poem and sell it as a board book.

    It’s beautiful!!!

  8. MikeB
    Posted January 9, 2013 at 3:14 am | Permalink

    Just as an interesting side note:

    Did you know that subsequent versions of Darwin’s book contained the altered line, “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;”?

    Bastards.

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Charles_Darwin

  9. Posted January 25, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    When I initially left a comment I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are
    added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get four emails
    with the same comment. Is there a means you can remove me from that service?
    Thanks!