Letter from Charles Darwin to His Sister, Catherine
Simmons B. Buntin9 October, 1835My Dearest Catherine,
We have sailed from the anarchy
of Lima and Peru
for the drier anarchy of the Galapagos,
where volcanic craters burn
their regular forms jutting
from the archipelago
like the great iron-foundries
And though there are no plumes,
the slight vapour blends
with low sky so that once again
the world is gray.
It is gray in the mutinied captain’s
skull found among salt-green
succulents, in the oppressive
heat of absent wind, and
in dusky hues of equatorial finches.
Perhaps it is my mood which is truly
gray, as Fitzroy turns
madder with the days
and crewmen yearn for British seas.
Yet we are here, among these
curious rocks, and surely there is hope
in their exploration.25 October, 1835What joy in the cloudless skies,
in these barren isles! Though I have found
few species, it is their rarity
which excites. On Albemarle,
the largest island, I have tossed
a remarkable lizard by tail into the sea.
And always he returns!
On Chatham Island
I have balanced unsteadily
upon the giant back of a tortoise grazing
the sweet red fruit of cactus!
And of thirteen species
of finch, where I was drowning
in the dullness of feather,
I now sail on the varied waves
of their beaks!
Come sail with me
Catherine—take the wind west
to these juvenile isles and dance
among the gray feathers
that make up the brilliance of life.
If I appear too drunk to write
with steady hand and level mind
it is because I am too
undernourished not to go on.
Though sailors laugh
as I sketch the remarkable shapes
flourished since just one finch
lit upon Indefatigable’s jagged
beach, I am aware only of life’s
ability to persevere,
But in man’s own wilderness,
void of cottages and cobblestone
and into the saline deck
of navigator’s ship, perseverance
usurps evolution, discarding it quite
entirely. No, you should not dance here.
Dare say that I should not, either—
but for these birds and vines
and islands. And the faint memory
of a distant home.
In loving passage,
7 June 2009
"My Dearest Catherine" (Part III)
by Karen James
Simmons Buntin has kindly agreed to let us reproduce his series of three poems as imagined letters from Darwin to his sister Catherine when he was aboard the Beagle. They are published in his book of poems Riverfall (Salmon Poetry, Ireland, 2005). They also appeared in MIT Press's anthology on evolution and progress. We've already posted the first and second; here is the third: