Starting from Paumonok

As always, American politics is an absorbing sideshow. After an alarming primary season, Romney and Ryan are now on the GOP ticket, but what Mitt, Newt, Rick, Ron, and Rick all had in common was that they thought a privileged white doofus should be in charge. Come on, America. You've tried that. And as if there weren't enough PWDs in the field, Missouri's Todd Akin had to pipe up, reminding everyone that Republicans often have a nebulous grasp of reality. His Palinesque ignorance earned him instant notoriety, and ignited a debate about rape and reproduction. One of the best things I've read on the subject was this in the New Yorker, by someone who (unlike Akin) actually knows what he's talking about.

One of the best lines I've read of late was in an article on Mitt's sex appeal at The Atlantic: Evolutionary psychology is the phrenology of our time. Thank you, Elspeth Reeve. I'm glad I'm not the only one rolling her eyes at fatuous explanations of how our behaviour around the office or at parties reflects traits on which our hunter/gatherer ancestors must have relied. I think the ancestors would turn in their neolithic graves if they knew what nonsense is talked in their name.  

Darwin, too, might turn, since he wrote with truth and beauty in mind, and wonder, and curiosity, and love: none of these seem present in his dim descendents, the psychopundits. I found this week these lines from Origin of Species which seem to me lovely: “As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever-branching and beautiful ramifications.”

The odds of finding a poem to tie these loose thoughts into some kind of coherence were always slim, but Darwin's contemporary, Walt Whitman, casts so wide a net that he just might catch, in these lines from the poem “Starting from Paumonok,” all the creatures I've just loosed. (You can read the whole thing here.)  Have a nice weekend. 

Victory, union, faith, identity, time,
The indissoluble compacts, riches, mystery,
Eternal progress, the kosmos, and the modern reports.
This then is life,
Here is what has come to the surface after so many throes and convulsions.
How curious! how real!
Underfoot the divine soil, overhead the sun.
See revolving the globe,
The ancestor-continents away group'd together,
The present and future continents north and south, with the isthmus
See, vast trackless spaces,
As in a dream they change, they swiftly fill,
Countless masses debouch upon them,
They are now cover'd with the foremost people, arts, institutions, known.
See, projected through time,
For me an audience interminable.

With firm and regular step they wend, they never stop,
Successions of men, Americanos, a hundred millions,
One generation playing its part and passing on,
Another generation playing its part and passing on in its turn,
With faces turn'd sideways or backward towards me to listen,
With eyes retrospective towards me.


Take my leaves America, take them South and take them North,
Make welcome for them everywhere, for they are your own off-spring,
Surround them East and West, for they would surround you,
And you precedents, connect lovingly with them, for they connect
lovingly with you.