[550] Evolution

Title :  Evolution
Poet :  Langdon Smith
Date :  19 Sep 2000
1stLine:  When you were a tadp...
Length :  108 Text-only version  
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Guest poem submitted by Jose de Abreu, <jose@> :

Evolution
When you were a tadpole and I was a fish
 In the Paleozoic time,
And side by side on the ebbing tide
 We sprawled through the ooze and slime,
Or skittered with many a caudal flip
 Through the depths of the Cambrian fen,
My heart was rife with the joy of life,
 For I loved you even then.

Mindless we lived and mindless we loved
 And mindless at last we died;
And deep in the rift of the Caradoc drift
 We slumbered side by side.
The world turned on in the lathe of time,
 The hot lands heaved amain,
Till we caught our breath from the womb of death
 And crept into light again.

We were amphibians, scaled and tailed,
 And drab as a dead man's hand;
We coiled at ease 'neath the dripping trees
 Or trailed through the mud and sand.
Croaking and blind, with our three-clawed feet
 Writing a language dumb,
With never a spark in the empty dark
 To hint at a life to come.

Yet happy we lived and happy we loved,
 And happy we died once more;
Our forms were rolled in the clinging mold
 Of a Neocomian shore.
The eons came and the eons fled
 And the sleep that wrapped us fast
Was riven away in a newer day
 And the night of death was past.

Then light and swift through the jungle trees
 We swung in our airy flights,
Or breathed in the balms of the fronded palms
 In the hush of the moonless nights;
And, oh! what beautiful years were there
 When our hearts clung each to each;
When life was filled and our senses thrilled
 In the first faint dawn of speech.

Thus life by life and love by love
 We passed through the cycles strange,
And breath by breath and death by death
 We followed the chain of change.
Till there came a time in the law of life
 When over the nursing side
The shadows broke and soul awoke
 In a strange, dim dream of God.

I was thewed like an Auruch bull
 And tusked like the great cave bear;
And you, my sweet, from head to feet
 Were gowned in your glorious hair.
Deep in the gloom of a fireless cave,
 When the night fell o'er the plain
And the moon hung red o'er the river bed
 We mumbled the bones of the slain.

I flaked a flint to a cutting edge
 And shaped it with brutish craft;
I broke a shank from the woodland lank
 And fitted it, head and haft;
Then I hid me close to the reedy tarn,
 Where the mammoth came to drink;
Through the brawn and bone I drove the stone
 And slew him upon the brink.

Loud I howled through the moonlit wastes,
 Loud answered our kith and kin;
From west and east to the crimson feast
 The clan came tramping in.
O'er joint and gristle and padded hoof
 We fought and clawed and tore,
And check by jowl with many a growl
 We talked the marvel o'er.

I carved that fight on a reindeer bone
 With rude and hairy hand;
I pictured his fall on the cavern wall
 That men might understand.
For we lived by blood and the right of might
 Ere human laws were drawn,
And the age of sin did not begin
 Till our brutal tush were gone.

And that was a million years ago
 In a time that no man knows;
Yet here tonight in the mellow light
 We sit at Delmonico's.
Your eyes are deep as the Devon springs,
 Your hair is dark as jet,
Your years are few, your life is new,
 Your soul untried, and yet -

Our trail is on the Kimmeridge clay
 And the scarp of the Purbeck flags;
We have left our bones in the Bagshot stones
 And deep in the Coralline crags;
Our love is old, our lives are old,
 And death shall come amain;
Should it come today, what man may say
 We shall not live again?

God wrought our souls from the Tremadoc beds
 And furnished them wings to fly;
We sowed our spawn in the world's dim dawn,
 And I know that it shall not die,
Though cities have sprung above the graves
 Where the crook-bone men make war
And the oxwain creaks o'er the buried caves
 Where the mummied mammoths are.

Then as we linger at luncheon here
 O'er many a dainty dish,
Let us drink anew to the time when you
 Were a tadpole and I was a fish.

	-- Langdon Smith


I was just surfing around and came across this poem... really unusual for a love
poem, I felt. So I thought it might look good on Minstrels:-) The catch being
that I couldn't find much in the way of bio details on the poet, or any other
poems but this one.

Jose.

Bio (all I could find!)

 ... one such individual, unknown even among biologists, is British naturalist
Langdon Smith, who conducted excellent biological research, and also wrote
exquisite poetry. Smith was born in Scotland in 1877, and came to the United
States when he was 14. Practically nothing is known about his education, except
that in his early twenties he was engaged by the Museum of Natural History in
New York to do research, and that he was often invited by scientific societies
to lecture. He also wrote articles on scientific subjects for newspapers. He
wrote a particularly beautiful poem about evolution titled "A Tadpole and a
Fish." A friend of his found this poem, which Smith had carelessly laid aside,
and recognized it as something exceptional. He prevailed upon Smith to submit
the poem to some of the best papers for an opinion. The first to examine the
poem was the editor of the New York Herald, who gave Smith a check for $500, a
considerable sum in those times, for the right to publish it. Smith became ill
and returned to England, where he died some months later of tuberculosis. The
poem was later published under the title "Evolution" in 1909 and was included in
anthologies published in 1922 and 1924.

From: AFrannk@

I heard this poem for the first time, about 40 years ago.  I have since 
looked for it, off and on, but have never found a copy of it until now.
Thank you so much for including it in your list.
Frank Farmer
Afrannk@

From: "Chris_and_Lauren Magaldi" <clmagaldi@>

My favorite poem!  I found it a couple of years ago and fell in love with
 it.  Thank you for including it.

From: Shrmpee@

Hi,

As a collector or unusual and rare books and poems I stumbled across a hard 
bound copy of EVOLUTION and was also intriqued by it's beauty and subject 
matter. The copy I found was in pretty good shape in a Utica, New York attic 
home and owned by a reader dating it 1913. Copyright on the slim volume is 
1909 by L.E. Basset and Company, Boston. The forward and aft was written by 
Lewis Allen Browne and gives more insight into the poet and accomplishments 
of Smith.  The forward mentions that he was born in Kentucky in 1858, but no 
mention of his birth in Scotland as reported. He served in the Comanche and 
Apache wars as a trooper and reported these campaigns to the New York Herald 
paper. He also went to Cuba as a correspondent for the Herald. He wrote "On 
the Pan Handle"- a novel. If anyone has info on this book, I'd be interested! 
 Anyone can write me for more.
Shrmpee@

From: VeggyStan@

Very romantic poem. My Ex-wife and I both loved it (as Agnostics). But she's 
gone and all I have is the beauty of the words.
Veggystan @aol.com

From: "Carl Fredholm" <ghildy@>

I found this poem about four years ago in the poetry book, A Treasury of
the Familiar,  and I've loved it from that day forward.  Thank you for
putting it on the net.

glady morgan

From: Gene Thorne <gthorne99@>

The bio given above by Jose for the author differs sharply from the one 
given by Martin Gardner (of Scientific American fame) in his essay "When 
You Were a Tadpole and I was a Fish". This essay was originally printed in 
the Antioch Review for Fall 1962 and reprinted in Gardner's Order and 
Surprise (Oxford University Press 1984) - which is where I read it. 
According to Smith's bio in Who's Who in America 1906-07, Smith was born on 
January 4, 1858 in Kentucky. For more details please see the essay, but 
interestingly Smith spent most of his career as a journalist for various 
newspapers, including the New York Herald. This is about the only common 
factor I see between Gardner's and Jose's bios. There are enough 
differences that I am sure Jose's Smith and Gardner's Smith are two 
different people. I have no idea which one really wrote the poem, but I 
would love to know more details. Jose, what is the source of your 
biographical sketch?
-Gene

From: "Lars_Olof.Bjorn@" <Lars_Olof.Bjorn@fysbot.lu.se>

I have known and loved "Evolution" for a long time. I first encountered
it in "The Pocket Book of Popular Verse" printed in New York in 1945. It
is one of the most beautiful love poems I know. I made a Swedish
translation and read it at my wife's PhD graduation luncheon; this
translation has since been published with illustrations in the journal
Forskning och Framsteg (1986, issue 2) and reprinted in another journal.
In connection with this publication I found some other material
concerning the poem in our university library. There is a German and a
Danish translation, but I remember that I did not think that they are
very good and not accurate. Smith wrote his poem during many years, and
he read it at his wife's birthday at Delmonico's restaurant in New York,
which explains the fourth stanza from the end. I hope that Delmonico's
have the poem on the wall (if the restaurant still exists); we do in our
university department.

Lars Olof Bjorn, retired botany professor
Lars_Olof.Bjorn@

From: "Penny Nichols" <penny5577@>

Get more from the Web.  FREE MSN Explorer download : http://explorer.msn.com/

From: "Dawn Marie Bowles" <dawnmariebowles@>

I've only been able to find "Evolution" in The Best Loved Poems of the
American People published in 1936 by Doubleday. It is one of the first
poems I remember reading growing up.  Who knows, perhaps it was
subconscious inspiration for my love of biology AND romance. My family's
copy of the book is tattered and torn now but no matter where I go I
carry it with me. Thank you for putting "Evolution" on the net so that
more people can enjoy it. Maybe we can start a trend and then find out
more about Langdon Smith.

From: Tombtome@

Beautiful!  My father used to quote part of this poem at the dinner table, as 
an admonition to better manners.  Thank you, thank you.

From: dlhinkel <dlhinkel@>

I went in search of this poem after reminiscing about my recently deceased
grandfather.  When I was about ten, we were down in his old farm gravel
pit.  I found some sort of fossil in one of the rocks, and he recited the
entire thing, word for word.  This was not unusual, he could do this with
countless poems.  I can still remember the feeling it gave me to hear him
spout off the words as if he had written them himself.  Thanks for posting it. 

DL Hinkel, Student

From: "Lee Motteler" <geomapcorp@>

Like D.L. Hinkel, my grandfather (who died in 1956) knew this poem in
its entirety and quoted it often. As with many poems and spirituals he
had memorized, he did not recall the title. Years later my scholarly
older brother found it and proceeded to memorize it himself! I have a
couple of tantalizing tidbits to add to the data on Langdon Smith. First
of all, the copy I found some years ago and photocopied (sorry, I don't
have the provenance) is preceded by this editor's note: "The author of
this curious poem was a New York journalist, who had formerly been a
telegraph operator. Strange to say, this is the only poem of distinction
that he is known (to me) to have written." I'm afraid that's not much
help, and still doesn't solve the riddle of just who he was. The 4th
edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (1992), under Langdon
Smith on page 651, cites the first four lines of the poem, followed by
the source, listed as follows: 'A Toast to a Lady' in The Scrap-Book
April 1906. So the poem's title apparently went through an evolution of
its own. Some toast, eh? I don't know where my grandfather first read
it, but I'm quite sure it was soon after it was published, as he was
about 30 at that time. I have rarely had a poem affect me the way this
one does every time I read it. Let's keep digging (and surfing), and
perhaps we'll learn more!
Aloha from Hawaii
Lee

From: "Zane C. Motteler" <zcm@>

I am the "scholarly older brother" mentioned above by Lee.
As Lee says, our grandfather frequently quoted "Evolution", along
with many other poems. He had a photographic memory and
needed to read something only once to have it by heart for
the rest of his life. I found "Evolution" in a paperback collection
of poems when I was a boy in the 1940's or 50's. I memorized
it myself, and can still recite the whole thing, but unlike Granddad,
I don't have a photographic memory, so it took me a while to
learn it. The book that I got it from is long gone, but my memory
of the poem is strong. I quoted it to my wife when we were
courting, and I still recite parts of it to her. It is indeed a beautiful
love poem.

Zane

From: "vze48pzr" <vze48pzr@>

Ahhh,
Just wanted to read this poem. My favorite of all times. We're moving
and all my books are packed. Thanks.

From: "eaariniello" <eaariniello@>

THanks for resurrecting this poem,I had it memorized in high school in
the 50's.I have shared it with every woman I ever loved.They all
appreciated it.I have need of it again so am glad it came up quickly on
my search.Good Bio on Smith as well.

From: Martin and Melinda Meadows <mmeadows30@>

Funny thing about this poem. I discovered it in the mid 1980-s while in
college. I enjoyed it very much and memorized it word for word. One of my
favorite poems. Over the years I began to forget portions of it and began
trying to relocate it. With the advent of the world wide web in the 1990's I
began using search engines to find it (I couldn't recall the author's name).
I've searched once or twice in the past couple of years ... and this morning
something prompted me to look for it again. I was pleased and surprised to
find this website today. I won't forget the author's name again! Thanks!

Martin Meadows

From: "paul alford" <plalford@>

I am an American Indian (Shawnee) When I was growing up my Father would
recite this poem when we were camping. It became a part of me. Thanks
for sharing.
                  Paul  plalford@

From: "Kevin M. Sullivan" <kmspi@>

Long ago, during the mid-1960's, Jean Shepherd, a brilliant writer and
storyteller, had a nightly radio program on WOR in New York City.  His
on-the-air reading of "Evolution" was the first time I heard (or heard
of) this poem.  In 1968, I purchased a copy of a book titled "The Best
Loved Poems of the American People" and was delighted to find
"Evolution" printed there.

 I still have the book, and I still love the poem.

From: ChevyHarley765@

Evolution has been one of my favorite poems for years.  My mom read it to me 
when I was young and it has stuck with me for a long time.  I have most of it 
memorized, but finding a  page like this reminds me that there are some 
people that you are just meant to know or be with.  It is a reaffirmation of 
all of my beliefs.  Thanks for having the page!

Jayme

From: Robert Magoffin <rcmagoffin@>

I was introduced to Evolution by my grandfather: he recited it 
magnificently--it held me spellbound.  Then he told me that he recited it 
to my grandmother when he proposed to her, one night when they were having 
dinner.  The rest is family history.  To hear it spoken in all it's 
splendor is a moving, indelible experience.

From: "Teresa Kintner Gunnell" <tess@>

Just like so many others, I found this poem as a child. My father's copy
of "Treasury of the Familiar" was all but memorized by me when I was
little, and I still miss that book. My friend Martin (yes, *that*
Martin!) quoted this the other day and I had a rush of memory. Thank
goodness (again and again) for the Minstrels.

tess

From: Progres51@

I found a nice 1909 copy of Langston's Evolution just the other day. It's in 
great shape, and the poem is indeed beautiful. This was actually my first 
encounter with one of his books, so it's a pleasant surprise. My book is in good 
condition and nicely illustrated. On 3/9/1936 someone wrote on the first page 
"To the 'Superlative Tadpole," from a 'Poor Old Fish."  The poem is a nice find

From: apbjvb@ (Arthur burgess)

My mother (born l886) told me that my father had quoted this poem to her
when they were courting.  She married him (nine years later)--but then
"Evolution" is a lengthy process.  Thanks for making it available.  We
are using it for a Poetry Reading on Valentine's Day at our Unitarian
Church.

From: Arthur burgess <apbjvb@>

My father read this poem to my mother (she told me)--some 85 years ago.
She married him nine years later--but then "Evolution" i s a slow
process.!

From: "Lynn Koiner" <Koiner@>

I first heard this poem read to my elementary school class in the 1950s
by a NUN!  When I was in college, I found this poem at the Library of
Congress in Washington DC.  I wrote it down by hand.  In the late 1990s,
I copied it onto a computer that subsequently died.  I felt that this
poem was lost to me.
I am so grateful that it is on the Internet.  It is my favorite. Yet, it
was listed as being written by Anonymous.
Lynn Koiner

From: "Goodier Family" <family@>

Although this appears as a sweet and romantic poem, it disgusted me that
evolution was taken as fact and a work of God.  Rather, God made us all as
humans, not any other way, and our relationship with Him and others is, to
me, so much more romantic!