Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The sea grows old in it

A few weeks ago we were treated to news of a 375 million-year-old "missing link" fossil find from the Canadian arctic, a glimpse of that moment when fins became limbs and vertebrates made the transition from sea to land.

What would have prompted a fish to forsake its familiar medium for life on shore? Perhaps a taste for terrestrial insects. Go here to see short flicks of an African catfish that has mastered the art of shore feeding. Key to this fish's success is a neck than allows the head to bend down.

It's a dog-eat-dog, catfish-eat-insect world out there, and has been since the beginning. Intelligent design? Every innovation in evolution was driven by the need to eat, the hard, defiant battering of creature against creature.

I shared with you a few days ago Marianne Moore's poem on the ostrich. Here is another, The Fish. A cryptic poem, much admired but little understood. The tone is clearly one of resignation. The subject is ostensibly a seaside chasm, filled with creatures and the thrusting sea. We might, however, apply her imagery to any product of evolution, including, most particularly, ourselves: All/ external/ marks of abuse are present on this/ defiant edifice--/all the physical features of/ ac-/ cident--/...Repeated/ evidence has proved that it can live/ on what can not revive/ its youth.