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Darwin: a life in poems by Ruth Padel

Darwin: a life in poems (2009)

by Ruth Padel

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Darwin: A Life in Poems is an interesting endeavour, though it doesn't quite work for me. Bits of Darwin's words, descriptions of his life, little details -- it makes for an interesting collection for its own sake, but the poetry mostly doesn't read right. Some of the detail plucked from Darwin's letters and work is interesting, some bits of it work startlingly well, but as a whole, it's not a project that works for me.

A sort-of similar project making music around Darwin's life worked much better for me -- Karine Polwart's song can bring tears to my eyes in the right mood. The Darwin Song Project is worth checking out, though their site now seems to be defunct. You can at least find Karine's song on youtube. ( )
  shanaqui | Nov 23, 2014 |
The idea of a biography in poems struck me as rather odd at first, but it ended up being very effective. Perhaps it would be more difficult with a less documented life than Darwin's: the sort of beautiful image or moment of transcendance that poetry loves to explore is precisely the sort of thing Darwin noted in his journals. I found the poems stronger in the more adult sections, probably for exactly this reason.

We can't know another person's life, no matter how thoroughly that life was recorded, no matter how minutely his or her biographer's have dissected it. These poems do not pretend to show every detail or the full scope. However, they pluck out the crucial moments, trace the threads of connection, and evoke the emotions the subject may have shared; they leave the reader with lasting impressions of having encountered Darwin, of understanding him better. What biographer could ask for more? ( )
  eilonwy_anne | Sep 5, 2010 |
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'I believe you will humanize me', Charles Darwin, Letter to Emma Wedgwood, 1838
For Oliver, Nicola, Felix and Adam with much love.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307272397, Hardcover)

This remarkable book brings us an intimate and moving interpretation of the life and work of Charles Darwin, by Ruth Padel, an acclaimed British poet and a direct descendant of the famous scientist.

Charles Darwin, born in 1809, lost his mother at the age of eight, repressed all memory of her, and poured his passion into solitary walks, newt collecting, and shooting. His five-year voyage on H.M.S. Beagle, when he was in his twenties, changed his life. Afterward, he began publishing his findings and working privately on groundbreaking theories about the development of animal species, including human beings, and he made a nervous proposal to his cousin Emma.

Padel’s poems sparkle with nuance and feeling as she shows us the marriage that ensued, and the rich, creative atmosphere the Darwins provided for their ten children. Charles and Emma were happy in each other, but both were painfully aware of the gulf between her deep Christian faith and his increasing religious doubt. The death of three of their children accentuated this gulf. For Darwin, death and extinction were nature’s way of developing new species: the survival of the fittest; for Emma, death was a prelude to the afterlife.

These marvelous poems—enriched by helpful marginal notes and by Padel’s ability to move among multiple viewpoints, always keeping Darwin at the center—bring to life the great scientist as well as the private man and tender father. This is a biography in rare form, with an unquantifiable depth of family intimacy and warmth.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:38 -0400)

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In this new sequence of poems using multiple viewpoints, Ruth Padel follows not only the development of the great scientists professional thought, and the drama of the discovery of evolution, but also imagines the fluctuating emotions within Darwin, the private man and tender father.… (more)

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