Faithful to Science

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And stands about the woodland ride

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
A. E. Housman (1859–1936)

from A Shropshire Lad (1896) by A. E. Housman (1859–1936).  (copyright policy)

I decided to share this poem by A. E. Housman this week, because it is part of the antidote to the distorted vision of the natural world that I took issue with in last week’s post. I felt uneasy after disseminating the quotation from River out of Eden last week, because Dawkins’ confident rhetorical manner has a tendency to overrule reasonable opposition, and leave one feeling bewildered. I felt that, even though it is possible (and important) to unpick ill-argued assertions by careful reasoning, what was wanted was also some poetry to help restore a sense of balance. It is not, as I have repeatedly admitted in these pages, that the natural world is easy or comfortable, but, by God, it has woven into it such stores of beauty as stagger the mind and startle the heart, and don’t let anyone ever rob you of that truth.

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  1. Graeme Ritchie

    May 17, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Thanks for the poem. This, and the last couple pf posts , have reminded me of the C.S. Lewis essay “Meditation in a toolshed” in which Lewis acknowledges that phenomena can be understood from the outside and from within, but that one way of understanding is not necessarily superior. In the school in which I teach an olive-backed sunbird has woven a tiny nest onto a dangling iron chain past which several hundred school pupils walk each day. The female bird sits inside this unbelievably fragile cup incubating its clutch. We can rightly talk, as our science curriculum does, of behaviors such as nest building and care of young increasing the chances of successful reproduction. We can usefully talk (thanks to you) of eager genes. But on another level we can just stand and stare and be astonished at the wonder of this tiny creature sitting in its untidy cup woven of whatever it could find lying around.

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