Thomas Thornely, Verses from Fen and Fell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1919): 83-86.
1When Nature set herself to work, she did it in a way,
2Which seems a little odd to us, who order things today.
3She did not think the matter out, or draw up any plan,
4But she started in a hurry and she reasoned as she ran,
5With the confident assurance of an optimistic man.
6Her misses were so many and her hits so very few,
7That the wonder is she ever had the luck to muddle through,
8But she hadn't any scruples and she never made a fuss,
9If the way in front was blocked she tried a circumbendibus.
10She churned quiescent ether up and stepped aside to see
11Existence oozing slowly from potentiality,
12And an integrating order to stir the misty bounds of space,
13So she lashed about her lustily, to quicken up the pace,
14With a smile of satisfaction on her interesting face.
15She mixed a lot of matter with the thing we know as life,
16And, to make her creatures livelier, she set them all at strife--
17Some were fighting for a dinner, others fighting for a wife--
18And the one that ate the other was the one she counted 'fit,'
19Or, to put it scientifically, she 'selected' it.
20Strange forms of life came bubbling up with eager wondering eyes,
21Each with its little aptitudes, its faint antipathies.
22She sorted them and sifted them, in ocean, earth and air,
23And she filled the nooks and crannies with the stuff she had to spare,
24And the conscientious entity, that did not care to fight,
25Had to vanish from existence or become a parasite.
26There were large and lumpish lizards, in that old and foolish time,
27Which led a dull existence in a sort of slushy slime;
28Though some had bodies bigger than the biggest London 'bus,
29They were mostly inoffensive, being graminivorous.
30With the maximum of body went the minimum of mind,
31When the rest were romping forward, they came rumbling on behind.
32They may pass as early efforts, but they did not run to brain,
33So Nature swept them all away and set to work again.
34The whale was in the water once, and once upon the shore,
35And now it's gone to sea again--we trust for evermore.
36And other clumsy creatures came, that did not come to stay,
37They were willing to develop, but they could not find the way.
38The ones we see around us are the ones that guessed the game,
39They have found the place they wanted, so they mostly keep the same,
40Being tired of progressing and indifferent to fame.
41Next she took a lively lizard, and its faint ambition stirred,
42Till it mounted in the heavens, as a silly sort of bird,
43Though it could not boast of beauty, and did not care to sing,
44In the eye of Evolution it's an interesting thing,
45The doyen of the tuneful race that live upon the wing.
46And so creation shambled on, and, as the ages went,
47Each saw some new departure made, some fresh experiment.
48There were many ghastly failures, like the octopus and shark,
49Suggesting inexperience, or groping in the dark,
50Or the coarser kind of joking, which the vulgar call a 'lark.'
51But do not let us look at life, like pessimists, and say,
52It's boggled, bungled business and had better pass away.
53We should not pitch our airy hopes unreasonably high.
54Or judge our fellow-creatures with too critical an eye.
55The very worst among us may be better by and bye.
56Well, Nature looked upon her work with pardonable pride,
57There was much that did her credit, still she was not satisfied.
58She was tired of making monsters like the hippopotamus,
59So she fixed her aim on higher game and set to work on us.
60The result was disappointing for, in attitude and shape,
61We were very little better than the ordinary ape;
62But she straightened up the forehead, and she modified the thumb,
63And then she smiled contented, for she knew the rest would come,
64And let us spin the top ourselves and try to make it hum.
65And so it came to pass that, after many days,
66There were lots of funny men about, with lots of funny ways;
67hey were very fierce and ugly, and their views were very short,
68But they wanted to be better and were willing to be taught,
69Having morals in the making, even manners--of a sort,
70Their brains kept growing bigger and they learnt a trick or two
71(They were eating one another then, but found it didn't do).
72They learnt the use of weapons, of the boomerang and bow,
73They mounted on a horse and learnt the way to make him go.
74After long dyspeptic ages they discovered it was best
75To put food upon the fire, to help it to digest.
76They came to see the value of the woman as a wife.
77When conversation languished, from the lack of proper signs,
78A language was constructed, though on very simple lines.
79They did not care for grammar, and they thought it early yet,
80To tabulate the parts of speech, or start an alphabet.
81They tried to be religious, though their attitude was odd
82To the gusty personality they fancied as a god.
83Their views were rudimentary in many other ways,
84But they slowly sifted out their most unedifying traits,
85And found 'adaptability' to be the thing that pays.
86With a caution most commendable, when a custom ceased to fit,
87They said 'We do not alter, but we re-interpret it'
88(Unconsciously foreshadowing our own forensic wit).
89Still they fought with one another, till, as brains and morals grew,
90And men distinguished what they did from what they ought to do,
91They fought about the meaning of the Beautiful, the True,
92And vexed their souls with problems which we cannot solve today,
93Though we think in many matters we have found a better way.
94There are many here among us who will argue that a fight
95Is the only way to settle if a thing is wrong or right.
96Though life is mostly struggle, it does not do to say
97That ways which told in days of old will work as well today.
98We have learnt cooperation and the law to give and take,
99And we spend a little trouble for another person's sake.
100Though fighting has its uses, it is better, in the end,
101To give up making enemies, and try to make a friend.
102The race that saunters onwards, with no sweat upon its brow,
103Leads a slovely existence, and is better for a row;
104But that race that lives for nothing but the rapture of the strife,
105Pays a lot of ready money for an agitated life.
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Ian Lancashire, assisted by Ana Berdinskikh