Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle Revisited. 3 Poems. Ian Irvine (Hobson)

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Tree of LifeImage: ‘Darwin’s Tree of Life’ [from public domain image, drawn by Darwin]

Poems

A Power Denuded the Granite

The Devil’s Confervae

The Work of Minute and Tender Animals

 

Poems by Ian Irvine (Hobson), copyright all rights reserved.

 

Please Note: many of these poems meditate upon or, in some cases rework/recombine, random phrases appearing in the 2nd edition of Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle. The first edition of the work appeared in 1839. I hope I have done some justice to the natural lyricism evident in Darwin’s relaxed prose style.

 

(i.)

 

A Power Denuded the Granite

 

All that glitters in the sun’s rays

suggests a profound ocean

and a growing burden

 

How many years

short of infinity

to polish these

burnished stones?

 

I have come to the tides

and the rivulets

the countless inundations,

the waves on the black rocks

the cataracts, the great rivers

the stubborn work of millennia.

 

I am growing old and weary

on this boat,

this salt-stained boat

of Empire.

 

(ii.)

 

The Devil’s Confervae

 

Can you see us from behind?

early morning salt haze—the sun

rising. And the boat slowing

enters an eerie stretch of

ocean, velvet-red, and

glides between a god-infested heaven

and a godless carpet of sea stuff

This blood track—it must be

two miles long—of

infernal waters.

 

The boat slows, we glide

Can you see us from behind?

The morning is huge

as we plough

the pulp of our sorrow

the whole surface of the water

pulses—and the waves lapping.

 

Under the lens, I observe

the contraction of tiny granular spheres

their number must be infinite

 

I’ve heard they make

the Red Sea

(appear) red.

 

(iii.)

 

The Work of Minute and Tender Animals

 

Not far off shore

we test the bottom

(the bottomless ocean)

The line spins down and down.

 

Envisage:

a steep edifice

(theorise: underwater ramparts, sheer

and dense).

 

In awe of these submerged mountains—

accumulated stone of ages!

 

The island, the reef, the coral—the coral

the living part of the greater death,

a vast, eroded, sedimentary death.

 

Once a volcano—spewed hot

then froze into a geologic form

then whipped by the wind

and lashed by the water

for countless millennia.

Amazing to contemplate—

the splendid work of ages.

 

It looms from obscene depths

and bleaches in the diving—

the underwater kingdom of

vegetable bones!

But near the surface

such colours, such vividness, such

intricacies of fish and frond.

 

Coral! The epiphanies of coral

their various shapes

their complex textures

marvellous life on a bed of death!

 

Our ancestry as sediment—

compacted into memory.

Today, for the first time, I sense

their concrete presence.

This self, mere fruit of their tragedies—

(the past beneath the waves).