systematic poetry

Tree of Life (~3,000 species, based on rRNA sequences) by David M. Hillis, Derrick Zwickl, and Robin Gutell, University of Texas.

Tree of Life (~3,000 species, based on rRNA sequences) by David M. Hillis, Derrick Zwickl, and Robin Gutell, University of Texas.

It’s not often that I have featured poetry here on the biocreativity blog, but there’s a first time for everything. And, there is a lot of great science poetry out there that I hope to feature someday. Thanks to my friend and colleague David Hillis for pointing me toward this one, which was published in the journal Systematic Biology yesterday. This is the first poem published in the journal, and I hope this is a trend that will continue. What are your favorites in science and nature poetry? What are some other journals that are incorporating the arts into their publications?

The Tree of Life

by David R. Maddison (Department of Zoology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331 USA; E-mail: david.maddison@science.oregonstate.edu)

I think that I shall never see
A thing so awesome as the Tree
That links us all in paths of genes
Down into depths of time unseen;

Whose many branches spreading wide
House wondrous creatures of the tide,
Ocean deep and mountain tall,
Darkened cave and waterfall.

Among the branches we may find
Creatures there of every kind,
From microbe small to redwood vast,
From fungus slow to cheetah fast.

As glaciers move, strikes asteroid
A branch may vanish in the void:
At Permian’s end and Tertiary’s door,
The Tree was shaken to its core.

The leaves that fall are trapped in time
Beneath cold sheets of sand and lime;
But new leaves sprout as mountains rise,
Breathing life anew ‘neath future skies.

On one branch the leaves burst forth:
A jointed limb of firework growth.
With inordinate fondness for splitting lines,
Armored beetles formed myriad kinds.

Wandering there among the leaves,
In awe of variants Time conceived,
We ponder the shape of branching fates,
And elusive origins of their traits.

Three billion years the Tree has grown
From replicators’ first seed sown
To branches rich with progeny:
The wonder of phylogeny.

© The Author(s) 2012. Published by Oxford University Press. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0), which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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