An exploration of the unpredictable worlds of Charles Darwin and Stevie Smith
Chaos is the science of surprises, of the nonlinear and the unpredictable. It teaches us to expect the unexpected' Dr Jonathan Wolfe
Charles Darwin (1809-1882), whose best known work is The Origin of Species, longed to be an explorer when he was young and was thrilled to be invited to join a round the world voyage which began his career as a naturalist and father of modern evolutionary ideas.
Darwin’s writings often turned the conventional world upside down: worms are shown to accomplish feats of strength, peahens to have surprising powers of discrimination, and an insect eating plant called sundew secretes the same digestive chemicals as the human stomach. His writings often deal with forms of life and behaviours that are unexpected, grotesque, and even comic. His last book on worms includes an account of how his family played the bassoon and piano to worms to find out if they could hear.
On these Darwin pages I explore his writings and those of other writers whose work influenced him: people as various as the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt, the geologist Charles Lyell and the poet William Wordsworth.
To put Darwin's vision in context I include a biography and, as his work was part of a ongoing interpretation of how species originated, I have also included a short history of evolutionary ideas the from ancient Greeks to the present
Stevie Smith, (1902 - 1971) whose best known work is the poem ‘Not Waving but Drowning’, longed to become an explorer when she was young but became a secretary. She wrote novels and poems in her spare time and lived in a London suburb all her life with her aunt.
Smith’s poems explore the problems of death, despair, religion and a variety of human relationships. Seas, rivers, mountains, geological time and suburbs feature prominently in her poems, together with cats and dogs and a variety of other animals, anacondas, lions, mosquitoes, voles and parrots.
Animal poems are sometimes dismissed as trivial, but animals play important roles in all societies and literature. The biblical story of creation firmly separates man and beast but in ancient mythologies and fairy tales humans, supernatural beings and animals shape-shift into each other. In Mediaeval bestiaries and Aesop's fables real and imaginary animals embody aspects of religious or moral teaching. Skylarks and nightingales illuminate the Romantic poets' conception of the sublime.
Smith gathered material from many sources for her poems, from her green suburban neighbourhood to the fabulous world of myth and fairytale and from other writers as various as Percy Shelley, Walt Whitman and Thomas de Quincey. To put Smith's vision in context I begin with a biography
There is also a page on the strange-attractor web site for the poet Chris Torrance
The copyright of the poems, prose, and photographs on this web site are the property of the authors. Stevie Smith's work is reproduced here by kind permission of the Estate of James MacGibbon. Stevie Smith's works, or any part of them, may not be downloaded, reprinted, or reproduced in any other form without the permission of which may be requested by contacting Faber and Faber
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