Carol McPhee introduces two poems illustrating how the way of writing called ‘naturalism’ was influenced by social Darwinism: “They’re not particularly good poems, certainly not the best their writers produced, but they do illustrate some of the concepts. Edgar Lee Masters’ simple, realistic language without much adornment is characteristic of the school, and so is the cynicism about human life on earth. Robinson Jeffers’ poem is a good example of the idea that violence and war are valuable for human life.”
EVERYONE laughed at Col. Prichard
For buying an engine so powerful
That it wrecked itself, and wrecked the grinder
He ran it with.
But here is a joke of cosmic size:
The urge of nature that made a man
Evolve from his brain a spiritual life—
Oh miracle of the world!—
The very same brain with which the ape and wolf
Get food and shelter and procreate themselves.
Nature has made man do this,
In a world where she gives him nothing to do
After all—(though the strength of his soul goes round
In a futile waste of power,
To gear itself to the mills of the gods)—
But get food and shelter and procreate himself!
Edgar Lee Masters (1868–1950) from Spoon River Anthology, 1916
The Bloody Sire
It is not bad. Let them play.
Let the guns bark and the bombing-plane
Speak his prodigious blasphemies.
It is not bad, it is high time,
Stark violence is still the sire of all the world’s values.
What but the wolf’s tooth whittled so fine
The fleet limbs of the antelope?
What but fear winged the birds, and hunger
Jewelled with such eyes the great goshawk’s head?
Violence has been the sire of all the world’s values.
Who would remember Helen’s face
Lacking the terrible halo of spears?
Who formed Christ but Herod and Caesar,
The cruel and bloody victories of Caesar?
Violence, the bloody sire of all the world’s values.
Never weep, let them play,
Old violence is not too old to beget new values.
Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) from The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, 1963
And now another point of view, a ‘hymn’ from Margaret Atwood: *
We Praise the Tiny Perfect Moles
We praise the tiny perfect Moles that garden underground;
The Ant, the Worm, the Nematode, wherever they are found.
They live their whole lives in the dark, unseen by Human sight;
The Earth is like the air to them, their day is like our night.
They turn the soil and till, they make the plants to thrive;
The Earth would be a desert, if they were not alive.
The little Carrion Beetles that seek unlikely places
Return our Husks to Elements, and tidy up our spaces.
And so for God’s small Creatures beneath the field and wood,
Let us today give joyful thanks, for God has found them good.
* from ‘The God’s Gardeners Oral Hymnbook’
in Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood
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