Darwin: A Life in Poems, by Ruth Padel (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2009, ISBN 978-0-307-27239-3) 160 pp. Cloth $26.00.
Not only does Ruth Padel’s Darwin: A Life in Poems hitch its wagon to the star of the 2009 Darwin bicentennial, but its poetry sprouts within the burgeoning field of organics as well. In shaping Charles Darwin’s biography through verse, Padel co-opts the words of Darwin (her great-great-grandfather) and his family and friends as well as the phraseology of religion, sparking in existence—human, animal, vegetable, and mineral—an organic source of wonder that seems beyond the bounds of what nature can hold. This technique of natural aggrandizement, built over the course of Padel’s book, argues not only for a terrestrial base of human awe and, ultimately, morality but hints at how human thinking might have gone astray earlier. There is indeed a glory beyond the reach of the naked eye, Padel’s poems tell us, but it lies within the very building blocks of life itself. What we today can freely explore through science and art, thanks to Darwin, our less-enlightened ancestors, understandably, gave over to God.