Busting a Rhyme for Evolution

A bit of light reading. Poetry is not the usual fare here, however this is about evolution so I thought it appropriate. The title comes from a section in Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

“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”

David R Madison (Department of Zoology, Oregon State University) has published a poem about evolution in the otherwise poetry-free journal, Systematic Biology.

The Tree of Life

I think that I shall never see1
A thing so awesome as the Tree
That links us all in paths of genes
Down into depths of time unseen;

Whose many branches spreading wide
House wondrous creatures of the tide,
Ocean deep and mountain tall,
Darkened cave and waterfall.

Among the branches we may find
Creatures there of every kind,
From microbe small to redwood vast,
From fungus slow to cheetah fast.

As glaciers move, strikes asteroid
A branch may vanish in the void:
At Permian’s end and Tertiary’s door,2, 3
The Tree was shaken to its core.

The leaves that fall are trapped in time
Beneath cold sheets of sand and lime;
But new leaves sprout as mountains rise,
Breathing life anew ‘neath future skies.

On one branch the leaves burst forth:
A jointed limb of firework growth.
With inordinate fondness for splitting lines,4
Armored beetles formed myriad kinds.

Wandering there among the leaves,
In awe of variants Time conceived,
We ponder the shape of branching fates,
And elusive origins of their traits.

Three billion years the Tree has grown
From replicators’ first seed sown
To branches rich with progeny:
The wonder of phylogeny.

  1. The first line of Alfred Joyce Kilmer’s poem ‘Trees
  2. 90-96% of the species disappeared during the Permian extinction.
  3. Tertiary period begins with the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs, 67 million years ago.
  4. Evolutionary biologist JBS Haldane is attributed with saying “God has an inordinate fondness for beetles.”; there are around 400 000 species of beetles


The Dog, The Arrow and the Song


4 thoughts on “Busting a Rhyme for Evolution

  1. Pingback: The Dog, The Arrow and the Song | Science of Dogs

  2. I have to admit, I like this version of Trees better. I just read another dino theory about a volcanic find in Mexico. I wonder if they may one day find all the theories tie together into one tragic event.

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