Friday, December 17, 2010

snapshots of Snapshots

Here are some snapshots from Snapshots of a Voyage, as promised. It is a blank verse retelling of Charles Darwin's journey on board the Beagle with Captain Robert FitzRoy and of his exploits on various continents and islands around the world. I have tried to be faithful to the idiosyncrasies of Darwin's manner and phraseology as gathered through his letters and diary. It is easy, I think, to amalgamate Darwin the living breathing human, with Darwinism, the theory of evolution which sprung from his scientific aptitude.

Of those whom our retrospect makes giants, research generally proves to be of average height. This is especially true at this stage of Darwin's life. At the age of 22, a young man embarks on a remarkable journey of discovery--of self as well as of the natural world.

(These excerpts may seem like a lot but the work itself is 24 pages long. So I've been extremely selective. The pictures are for purposes of the blog, they are not a part of the poem itself. Which is to say, I'm not a multi-media artist. Not cool enough for that.)


Can one

Take back harsh words or do they pollute

Until the end of time? At any rate,

This place is gorgeous, Father. Let that be

The final word on Salvador. The grass

Is elegant. Has that been said of grass

Before? Even the greedy weeds possess

A beauty to match the flowers.


Of sound and silence, chaos of delight.


A veritable sailor is your Charles,

Dear sisters—taking sport in furling sheets

Against the Samarang. A regular

Man o’ war befuddled by our Beagle.

There I was, picture this, both hands engaged

With the main-royal, studding-tack betwixt

My teeth. A major breakthrough with the men.

Imagine me, the seasick note-scribbler,

Ensconced in quarter-deck tomfoolery,

Allowed in sacred precincts, bawdy tales

Fantastic with the lies of otherwise

Shy seamen.


Beagle boasts

A fiddler. Funny fellow, this one is—

Up to one thing or another all day.

Mostly tinkering. Occasionally

He helps me with my obsession—the birds.

Me and my man, Syms Covington, have caught

Some eighty species. Slit ‘em and gut ‘em

And jot yoor’n letters, he sings while we seive

The entrails through our fingers. What a joy

That Covington is.

What a bloody mess!


What Eden is this

Where reptiles rule? Is all temptation moot?

All knowledge native? Where, Creator, hide

Your likenesses? Erasmus, get a load

Of this, because I’ve said nothing yet

Respecting their monstrosity:

Eight grown men to shuffle these tortoises

A mere ten feet. Humdingers fourteen stone

At least. And damned disgusting iguanas—

These clumsy imps of darkness.


I hear the grunts behind a hut—three, four,

Perhaps five heathens forswearing the laws

Of their Creator. Dipsomania

Abounds, all manner of vice oozes, seeps

Through street-ruts, pools and festers.

A woman wails. A missionary daubs

A single tear with a grime-stained sleeve.

I am on the verge myself. A child wails.

A mongrel dog lies dead in our path,

Flies swarm the mange and feast. I cry.

Now FitzRoy takes my hand. Deluge—my tears

Like God’s bursted firmament. Heaven help

These creatures. Oh, Fitz, they need Christ.


By elephant,

I clomp through the Mauritian wilds.

The scenery bewitches. Oh, a sweet

Virginia would be nice. A lovely girl

For romance and idle nights beneath stars.


Cape Town—another little embryo

Of England hatching. Nations send their men

To lose their tongues and spend their hearts out.


Yes, there is much of matter—bugs and beasts,

Stone and tree, lava and river—to see;

But there’s a sense in solitude, amidst

The temples nature built, that matters most . . .

More stirs in the chest of man than mere breath.

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