Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Irreducible complexity

Let me dally for a moment with a poem of Amy Clampitt, yes, the always interesting Amy Clampitt, she who walked through the world with her mouth agape, bug-eyed, astonished. The poem is called "The Sun Underfoot among the Sundews," of which I will quote a few lines.

She happens upon a patch of sundews, those golden, dew-globed carnivorous plants.
An ingenuity too astonishing
to be quite fortuitous is
this bog full of sundews, sphagnum-
lined and shaped like a teacup.
"Too astonishing to be fortuitous." We have all had that feeling occasionally, encountering some natural thing so perfect, so improbable, so suddenly just there, as if entering that room in MoMA where Monet's water lilies bloom, we see the thing and it takes our breath away, and we say "Oh my God," or some such oath or prayer. Too astonishing to be fortuitous. Sundews by Monet.

And some little voice lodged in our head by a thousand thousand years of scrambling about among astonishments whispers...
...that either
a First Cause said once, 'Let there
be sundews,' and there were, or they're
made their way here unaided
other than by that backhand, round-
about refusal to assume responsibility
known as Natural Selection.
It's William Paley's pocket watch on the heath all over again, but who needs a watch when the heath has teacup hollows full of sundews, each gnat-hungry plant tipped with golden globes of sticky digestive juice. "Oh my God," we say, shaking our head. It just comes out of our mouth, "Oh my God," as when we see that wall of water lilies at the MoMA.

Responsibility? Why this need to assign responsibility? For myself, I am more inclined to fall on my knees in front of the sundews than tottle off praising what the poet Charles Simic calls the "Boss of all bosses of the universe. Mr know-it-all, wheeler-dealer, wire-puller."

(The photo source is here..)