Sunday, April 24, 2016

BW17: Darwin's Bards

Darwin's Bards

Seeing as April is National Poetry Month, figured I'd highlight one of the Poets mentioned in Darwin's Bards written by John Holmes: 

Darwin's Bards is the first comprehensive study of how poets have responded to the ideas of Charles Darwin in over fifty years. John Holmes argues that poetry can have a profound impact on how we think and feel about the Darwinian condition. Is a Darwinian universe necessarily a godless one? If not, what might Darwinism tell us about the nature of God? Is Darwinism compatible with immortality, and if not, how can we face our own deaths or the loss of those we love? What is our own place in the Darwinian universe, and our ecological role here on earth? How does our kinship with other animals affect how we see them? How does the fact that we are animals ourselves alter how we think about our own desires, love and sexual morality? All told, is life in a Darwinian universe grounds for celebration or despair?

Holmes explores the ways in which some of the most perceptive and powerful British and American poets of the last hundred-and-fifty years have grappled with these questions, from Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning and Thomas Hardy, through Robert Frost and Edna St Vincent Millay, to Ted Hughes, Thom Gunn, Amy Clampitt and Edwin Morgan. Reading their poetry, we too can experience what it can mean to live in a Darwinian world. Written in an accessible and engaging style, and aimed at scientists, theologians, philosophers and ecologists as well as poets, critics and students of literature, Darwin's Bards is a timely intervention into the heated debates over Darwin's legacy for religion, ecology and the arts.



A.R. Ammons

I said I will find what is lowly
and put the roots of my identity
down there:
each day I’ll wake up
and find the lowly nearby,
a handy focus and reminder,
a ready measure of my significance,
the voice by which I would be heard,
the wills, the kinds of selfishness
I could
freely adopt as my own:

but though I have looked everywhere,
I can find nothing
to give myself to:
everything is
magnificent with existence, is in
surfeit of glory:
nothing is diminished,
nothing has been diminished for me:

I said what is more lowly than the grass:
ah, underneath,
a ground-crust of dry-burnt moss:
I looked at it closely
and said this can be my habitat: but
nestling in I
below the brown exterior
green mechanisms beyond the intellect
awaiting resurrection in rain: so I got up

and ran saying there is nothing lowly in the universe:
I found a beggar:
he had stumps for legs: nobody was paying
him any attention: everybody went on by:
I nestled in and found his life:
there, love shook his body like a devastation:
I said
though I have looked everywhere
I can find nothing lowly
in the universe:

I whirled though transfigurations up and down,
transfigurations of size and shape and place:

at one sudden point came still,
stood in wonder:
moss, beggar, weed, tick, pine, self, magnificent
with being!

Find out more about A.R. Ammons  in The Paris Review interview as well as with Philip Fried of the Manhattan Review.  Meanwhile continue your voyage following in the HMS Beagles wake.

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Sunday, April 17, 2016

BW16: Following in the HMS Beagle's wake

Courtesy of About

I thought we'd do a bit a armchair sightseeing along with Darwin while reading Voyage of the Beagle.   Our first port of call is the Madeira Islands to explore their vineyards and do a bit of wine tasting. 

Then we'll sail through the Canary Islands and stop off at Tenerife for a walking tour and visit the 16th century town of La Orotava before doing a bit mountain climbing, or golf and/or whale watching if you prefer.

Then we'll cruise around Cape Verde, and visit the birth place of Eugenio Tavares and Pedro Cardoso, fathers of the island's poetical literary movement and popular for its music called morna.

We'll stop to do some snorkeling or skin diving in Fernando de Noronha for a bit, 

before weighing anchor near Salvador and exploring the tropical rain forests of Brazil and the Abrolhos Shoals.

It's going to be a long voyage so fill your backpacks with books set in Brazil. A booklovers guide to Brazil's Best Reads, as well as Books set in Cape Verde,

Happy travels!

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

BW15: Edith Wharton

Courtesy Edith

Our female author of the month is Edith Wharton, who was born January 24th, 1862 in New York.  She was the daughter of aristocrats and educated at home through tutors. She also learned through reading the classics from her father's large personal library.  Her mother supported her writing and had her poems published for private readings by family and friends. 

During her marriage to Edward Wharton,  her first full length work The Decoration of Houses was published through a collaboration with architect Ogden Codman.  

After her divorce from Edward in 1913, she was in Paris when World War I started.   She organized charitable organizations to help refugees and due to her work with french and Belgian refugees charities, was decorated with the French Legion of Honor.

In 1921 she became the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her fictional story, The Age of Innocence. 

In 1923 she was awarded an honorary doctorate by Yale University for her literary works and humanitarian efforts.

In 1924, the American Academy for Arts and Letters awarded her the gold medal for her fiction.

Over her lifetime, she wrote many novels, short stories, books of poem, as well as non fiction books about architecture, interior design, gardening and travel. 

Find out more about Edith's legacy and her home The Mount here, the Wharton scholarship through the Edith Wharton Society and check out her fiction, nonfiction and short stores on line through the Literature Network as well as 

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Sunday, April 3, 2016

BW14: The Voyage of the Beagle

The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin 

Welcome to the 52 Books voyage aboard the HMS Beagle with Charles Darwin and company.  Rose will be our Captain and guide for this trip.  

Charles Darwin: his name evokes as broad a range of responses as any figure in modern times. I’ve seen descriptions and characterizations of his life, his work, and his intentions in publishing it that seem like they can’t possibly all be about the same person.   How can you get a handle on the real Darwin? Who was he, what motivated him, what did he feel about the development of the theory of evolution, and what did he believe its legacy would be?  I’m going to suggest three books that will help an interested reader get a handle on the real Charles Darwin.  These books don’t specifically focus on the theory of evolution, but on the man behind the theory.

First: to understand the man, read his own words.  Start with The Voyage of the Beagle: May I recommend this lovely illustrated edition? 

It is slightly abridged, but it is also enriched with maps, photographs, line drawings, botanical illustrations, portraits, and very interesting excerpts from Robert Fitzroy’s Proceedings of the Second Expedition, the book he published about the expedition. This is the book I'll be reading this month, and I look forward to discussing it with anyone who'd like to join me!

The main thing that strikes me as I read Voyage is the wide range of Darwin’s interests, and the incredible breadth of his knowledge. He seems to be equally at home speculating about geology, botany, zoology, anthropology, and most other bio-related -ologies, and can theorize equally comfortably about algae, unique rock formations, and tortoises.  I keep thinking as I read, “Man, is there anything this guy didn’t know about or think about?” 

It’s fascinating to consider what his education must have been like, what kind of mental preparation and training he had in order to be able to observe, catalog, and think about all the things he saw on his remarkable voyage. Though we may have much more information at our fingertips today than Darwin could dream of, I imagine that few of us would consider ourselves as knowledgeable as he was – and at a remarkably young age: He was just 22 when the Voyage began.  This amazing voyage, and the thousands of observations and drawings he made and specimens that he collected gave him the raw material he needed to formulate his theory.

Ok, but how did Darwin get from The Voyage to The Origin of Species?

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of his Theory of Evolution by David Quammen (a wonderful science writer! I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by him) is, well, a fascinating and intimate portrait of Darwin’s life and work in the years between his return to England in 1836 and the publication of his paper on Evolution in 1859 – a remarkable 23 year lag which would certainly have been even longer had Alfred Russell Wallace, a young naturalist who had traveled to South America and Southeast Asia and who had independently developed the idea of evolution by natural selection, not sent Darwin his own manuscript to review.  Darwin saw with horror that this manuscript articulated many of the ideas he’d been developing, but sitting on, for so many years, and this prompted him to finally share his theory with world – ready or not.

Why did Darwin wait so long to publish his theory? Quammen’s discussion is enlightening, but for an even more intimate portrait from a different perspective, read Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman.  

This was a lovely book that introduced me to a woman I now deeply admire: Emma Darwin.  As much a biography of Emma as of Charles and their life together, I was fascinated to read about Emma’s quite liberal and open upbringing and education.  The Darwin’s were cousins, and knew each other all their lives. They were aware of their compatabilities, and a marriage between them was natural and expected, but they were also aware of a potential incompatibility: Emma was a woman of deep faith, strengthened after the death of a beloved older sister, while Charles lived with doubt about the existence and the nature of God, and wrestled with the problem of evil his whole life, especially after the tragic deaths of several of his children.  

But the Darwin’s made the “leap of faith” and formed a unique and amazing partnership. Darwin’s reluctance to publish his theory was partly due to his own nature, his perfectionism, and his desire to present an unassailable case, but it also stemmed from a reluctance to cause pain to his wife. He didn’t think her faith would be challenged, but he did worry that she would be pained by attacks on him. 

I think it’s safe to say Darwin wouldn’t have been the man he was without Emma at his side.  She was his first reader and critic, and the example of how they conversed, with respect and love, about their theological differences was inspiring. I loved reading about their home, their children, their parenting philosophies.  And I loved reading about Emma and her life after Charles. I can remember just where I was as I listened to the end of this book: driving, tears streaming down my cheeks, thinking that in Emma, I had a role model I’d love to live up to.

I hope some of you will be inspired to read or listen to either of these Darwin biographies, and I hope you will join me on a read-along of The Voyage of the Beagle this month. I hope to tackle The Origin of Species at some point in the future, but first things first! 


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