Charles Darwin lost his mother at the age of eight, repressed all memory of her, and poured his passion into newt collecting and shooting. As a young man, his five year voyage on H.M.S. Beagle changed his life. Afterwards, working privately on groundbreaking theories about the development of species, he published his geological findings. He also made a nervous proposal to his cousin Emma.
They had a very happy marriage but both were painfully aware of the gulf between her devout Christian faith and his increasing religious doubt. The death of three of their ten 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.
In these extraordinary poems, using multiple viewpoints - even, at one point, the orangutang at London Zoo - Ruth Padel follows the development of Darwin's thought, the drama of the discovery of evolution, and fluctuating emotions in Darwin the husband, the naturalist and the tender father, in a powerful tribute to her famous forbear.
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Ruth Padel's remarkable memoir of her great-great-grandfather is a sequence of exquisite, precise and moving poems that cover his science, travels, marriage and family life. Once I started reading I could not put it down until I had reached the end, and then I turned back for the pleasure of reading again. -
A fascinating, very rich book. It excitingly combines several large tasks and shows that Darwin's science sprang from the same aesthetic impulse as poetry. With sympathy and grace, Padel moves deftly between between science, love and family; between the vast processes of evolution and a personal life. -
A very bold book, probably unique: a life in verse, even painting parallel lives that influenced Darwin's like that of Alfred Russel Wallace. We all have our own Darwin, but poetry gets under the skin of the subject in a way conventional biography cannot match. -
Ruth Padel's control of cadence and poetic diction is daring and exciting; her rhythm brilliant and subtle; the play with stanza form and technical tricks stunning and deeply impressive. Her handling of details and quotations from Darwin's life, letters and books is a lesson to biographers and poets alike. -
Ruth Padel is a prize-winning poet, Fellow of both the Royal Society of Literature and Zoological Society of London, and first Resident Writer at Somerset House, London. Her poetry collections include Rembrandt Would Have Loved You,Voodoo Shop and The Soho Leopard, allshortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. She has also published two much-loved books on reading contemporary poetry, 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem and The Poem and the Journey, and a highly acclaimed nature book, Tigers in Red Weather, shortlisted in the US for the Kiriyama Prize.