When you were a tadpole and I was a fish
In the Paleozoic time,
And side by side on the ebbing tide
We sprawled through the ooze and the slime,
Or skittered with many a caudal flip
Through the depths of the Cambrian fen,
My heart was rife with the joy of life,
For I loved you even then.
Mindless we lived and mindless we loved
And mindless at last we died,
And deep in the rift of the Carodic drift
We slumbered side by side.
The world turned on in the lathe of time,
The hot hands heaved amain,
Till we caught our breath from the womb of death
And crept into light again.
We were amphibians, scaled and tailed
And drab as a dead man’s hand;
We coiled at ease ”neath the dripping trees
Or trailed through the mud and sand.
Croaking and blind with three clawed feet
Writing a language dumb,
With never a spark in the empty dark
To hint at a life to come.
Yet happy we lived and happy we loved,
And happy we died once more;
Our forms were rolled in the clinging mold
Of a neocomian shore.
The eons came and the eons fled
And the sleep that wrapped us fast
Was riven away in a newer day
And the night of death was past.
Then light and swift through the jungle trees
We swung in our airy flights,
Or breathed in the balms of the fronded palms
In the hush of the of the moonless nights;
And, Oh! what beautiful years were these
When our hearts clung each to each;
When life was filled and our senses thrilled
In the first faint dawn of speech.
Thus life by life and love by love
We passed through the cycles strange,
And breath by breath and death by death
We followed the chain of change,
Till there came in the law of life
When over the nursing sod
The shadows broke and the soul awoke
In a strange, dim dream of God.
I was thewed like an Aroch bull
And tusked like a great cave bear;
And you, my sweet, from head to feet
Were gowned in your glorious hair.
Deep in the gloom of a fireless cave,
When the night fell ‘or the plain
And the moon hung red over the river bed
We mumbled the bones of the slain.
I flaked a flint to a cutting edge
And shaped it with brutish craft;
I broke a shank from the woodland dank
And fitted it, head and haft;
Then I hid me close to the reedy tarn,
Where the mammoth came to drink;
Through the brawn and bone, I drove the stone
And slew him upon the brink.
Loud I howled through he moonlit wastes,
Loud answered our kith and kin,
From west and east to the crimson feast
The clan came tramping (trooping) in.
O’er joint and gristle and padded hoof
We fought and clawed and tore,
And cheek by jowl with many a growl
We talked the marvel o’re.
I carved that fight on a reindeer bone
With rude and hairy hand.
I pictured his fall on the cavern wall
That men might understand.
For we lived by flood and the right of might
Ere human laws were drawn,
And the age of sin did not begin
Till our brutal tusks were gone.
And that was a million years ago
In a time that no man knows,
Yet here tonight in the mellow light
We sit at Delmonico’s.
Your eyes re deep as the Devon strings,
Your hair is dark as jet,
Your years are few, your life is new,
Your soul untried, and yet –
Our trail is on the Kimmeridge clay
And the scarp of the Purbeck flags;
We have left our bones in the Bagshot stones
And deep in the coralline crags;
Our love is old, our lives are old,
And death shall come amain,
Should it come today, what man may say
We shall live again?
God wrought our souls form the Tremadoc beds
And furnished them wings to fly;
He sowed our spawn in the world’s dim dawn,
And I know that it shall not die,
Though cities have sprung above the graves
Where the crook-boned men made war,
And the oxwain creaks o’re the buried caves
Where the mummied mammoths are.
Then, as we linger at luncheon here
O’er many a dainty dish,
Let us drink anew to the time when you
Were a tadpole and I was a fish.
Langdon Smith, Jan 4, 1858
educated Louisville, Kentucky
served in Comanche and Apache wars, war correspondant in Sioux war, in Cuba for Spanish Am. War Worked for NY Herald, NY Journal Called one of” best known newspaper writers in the country” wrote other poems but of no particular historical notarity reportedly wrote and rewrote Evolution many times before published Evolution was first printed on a page of classified advertisement in the middle of the want ads in the morning Hearst paper, New York Journal and Advertiser date unknown but was reprinted on Apr 1906 Subsequently was published in the Speaker 1908, Book of Poetry no date but had additional 4 lines “For we know that the clod, by the grace of God, Will quicken with voice and breath; And we know that Love, with gentle hand, Will beckon from death to death,” maybe added by another or deleted by Smith
Smith a one poem man like Thayer and his Casey at the bat.
from Antioch Review, 22(3):332. 1962. By Martin Gardner of Sci Am fame