“A Tadpole and a Fish”—“EVOLUTION” by Langdon Smith (1909)


I want to thank Barbara Anne K-H for reminding me yesterday May 11—on the 31st anniversary of my graduation from Tulane in 1980—of Langdon Smith and his wonderful poem, but I dedicate it here to my son Charlie at the successful end of his Freshman year in college at St. John’s in Annapolis—noting that my grandparents called me Tadpole…… But time makes you bolder and children get older, and I’m gettin’ older too.  All too soon I suppose Charlie graduation day will come and go, and he’ll be a full-fledged grown up Mr. Frog in his own right, ready to “go a coatin’….with a sword and a pistol by his side”

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 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 Caradoc drift
 We slumbered side by side.
The world turned on in the lathe of time,
 The hot lands 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 our 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 moonless nights;
And, oh! what beautiful years were there
 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 a time in the law of life
 When over the nursing side
The shadows broke and soul awoke
 In a strange, dim dream of God.

I was thewed like an Auruch bull
 And tusked like the 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 o'er the plain
And the moon hung red o'er 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 lank
 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 the moonlit wastes,
 Loud answered our kith and kin;
From west and east to the crimson feast
 The clan came tramping in.
O'er joint and gristle and padded hoof
 We fought and clawed and tore,
And check by jowl with many a growl
 We talked the marvel o'er.

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 blood and the right of might
 Ere human laws were drawn,
And the age of sin did not begin
 Till our brutal tush 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 are deep as the Devon springs,
 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 not live again?

God wrought our souls from the Tremadoc beds
 And furnished them wings to fly;
We 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-bone men make war
And the oxwain creaks o'er 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 (1858-1908) British-American Naturalist

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