The New York Times yesterday ran a nice piece by Oliver Morton of the journal Nature; amid the perennial alarm about the imminent demise of life on Earth, it usefully reminds us of our planet's astonishing antiquity and the indefatigable resilience of life, broadly construed anyway. That may not say much about the longevity of human life, which is very likely to be far more ephemeral, but it is perversely reassuring to know that in the cosmic sense we really can't do much damage (I do rather hope the big cats outlast us by a few million years at least).
I will indulge in another favorite poem, this time by the renegade Victorian Thomas Hardy, dated December 31, 1900 and apparently reflecting on the final day of that nineteenth century. Hardy had a long and well-placed lifespan (1840-1928), reaching from the wane of agrarian Olde England well into the mechanized age. What would he say today, I wonder? His image of defiant avian transcendence is positively Dickinsonian.
"The Darkling Thrush"
I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.
The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or night around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.