Early morning on the Sand-walk, Down House, March 1857
Praise be for fan-tailed pigeons, for flies
who lay their eggs in the navels of animals,
and every parasite that clings to life,
for red-grouse the colour of heather,
black-grouse that of peaty earth,
for the abundance of hair on the breast of the wild turkey,
the inherited peculiarities of the horns on cattle,
for tidal floods of starlings in massed tumblings
across winter skies, for the plumed seed that is wafted.
Praise be for brown beetles diving in streams,
for the wolf pack in snow,
hard pressed for food,
for upland geese with webbed feet
who seldom go near the water, for the beak
and tongue of the woodpecker,
for humble bees sucking at red clover blooms,
for each form, lightly chalked upon a wall,
divided into great branches, oddly perfect.
LISTEN to ‘Early morning on the Sand-walk, Down House, March 1857’ by Claire Orchard
Claire Orchard was born and raised in the Hutt Valley. She studied English and history at Massey University and completed an MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University in 2013. Her poems have appeared in various online and print journals, including Landfall, Turbine, Hue & Cry, JAAM, 4th Floor and Penduline Press. ‘Early morning on the Sand-walk, Down House, March 1857’ is the third in a sequence of eleven poems related to the life of naturalist Charles Darwin. The sequence, first published in Sport, has since expanded and will form a substantial part of Orchard’s first book of poems, to be published by Victoria University Press in 2015.
Orchard comments: ‘In 2013 I spent considerable time reading the scientific works and personal letters of Charles Darwin, in the process becoming fascinated by the more homely, informal facets of his life and character: his daily habits, his family relationships, his private responses to personal events. “Early morning on the Sand-walk” is set two and a half years prior to the publication of On the Origin of Species, a time when Darwin was occupied with refining and polishing the manuscript that would reveal his controversial theory of evolution. During this period, and indeed for much of his adult life, Darwin spent many hours walking on the Sand-walk, a woodland path he created in the garden of his home at Down House. Frequently accompanied by his fox terrier Polly, Darwin used these periods of immersion in the natural world as opportunities for quiet contemplation. This poem, which includes phrases selected from Origins, suggests an imagined internal monologue for one of these meditative strolls. It also does double duty as an ode to the weird and beautiful wonders of nature.’