Monday 1 August 2022

'The shell of balance rolls in seas of thought...'

 The great naturalist Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, chevalier de Lamarck, better known simply as Lamarck, was born on this day in 1744. He is remembered chiefly for his evolutionary ideas, notably the inheritance of acquired characteristics. It's an idea that seemed to have been rendered irrelevant by the development of genetics and the discovery of DNA as an apparently sufficient explanation for all heredity. Then along came transgenerational epigenetics, in which heritable characteristics occur in response to the environment without any alteration of DNA. At least I think that's how it works... 

Here is a poetical response – 'Lamarck Elaborated' by Richard Wilbur, in which he takes the Lamarckian idea that 'the environment creates the organ' and runs with it...

                   "The environment creates the organ"

The Greeks were wrong who said our eyes have rays;
Not from these sockets or these sparkling poles
Comes the illumination of our days.
It was the sun that bored these two blue holes.

It was the song of doves begot the ear
And not the ear that first conceived of sound:
That organ bloomed in vibrant atmosphere,
As music conjured Ilium from the ground.

The yielding water, the repugnant stone,
The poisoned berry and the flaring rose
Attired in sense the tactless finger-bone
And set the taste buds and inspired the nose.

Out of our vivid ambiance came unsought
All sense but that most formidably dim.
The shell of balance rolls in seas of thought.
It was the mind that taught the head to swim.

Newtonian numbers set to cosmic lyres
Whelmed us in whirling worlds we could not know,
And by the imagined floods of our desires
The voice of Sirens gave us vertigo.

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