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Evolution by Langdon Smith read by Jean Shepherd

Radio commentator Jean Shepherd reads "Evolution" by Langdon Smith. The text of the poem is below. Shepherd was a radio personality in New York City, mainly from the 1950s to the 1970s, and read the poem on a broadcast. Such long narrative poems were popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. This one appeared beginning in 1895 in the New York Herald. After the author's death in 1908, the poem was published as a short book in 1909 with the illustrations shown with this video. The book also contains material on Darwin and religion. You can find it as a scan on the web at and other locations. The poem reflects the interest in that period in Darwin and evolution. Shepherd apparently read the poem at least twice. This is a dramatic version. Some will recognize background music from (the original) movie of King Kong. EVOLUTION 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 the soul awoke In a strange, dim dream of God. I was thewed like an Auroch 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 to east to the crimson feast The clan came tramping in. O'er joint and gristle and padded bone We fought and clawed and tore, And cheek by jowl with many a growl We talked the marvel o'er. I carved the 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; 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-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
Length: 07:57


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