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Charles Darwin’s grandfather’s poetry prophesied evolutionary theory

Portrait of Erasmus Darwin by Joseph Wright of Derby (1792).jpg

Portrait of Erasmus Darwin by Joseph Wright of Derby (1792)

Charles Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802) wrote poetry about evolution:

Elsewhere I’ve argued that poets such as John Milton and Walt Whitman could be categorised as ‘scientific’. Yet Darwin’s is really a movement of one. Arguments could be made about scientific imagery from Pope to Emily Dickinson, but Darwin’s verse is singular, for nothing comes close to The Botanic Garden and especially The Temple of Nature in how committed the poet is to exploring empirical science. Darwin mined not nature for metaphor – nature was the thing itself.

There is an irony that the greatest poetic encapsulation of evolution was written before there was an actual theory of natural selection. Literature anticipates and prepares; it can consider unrealised possibilities. Poetic fantasy prefigures scientific prose. If ever there was an era that required the scientific poetic imagination, it is ours. In an age that needs such healing and wisdom about the natural world, we too need poets who shall rise to the challenge, who can sing a song of evolution, of climate change. In some small but hopeful sense, maybe they can cure the world.Ed Simon, “How Erasmus Darwin’s poetry prophesied evolutionary theory” at Aeon

Erasmus Darwin remains largely unread in an age when he could be read online for free. There must be something amiss with Ed Simon’s assumption that persons of his type can “cure the world.”

See also: Natural selection: Could it be the single greatest idea ever invented?

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