Langdon Smith

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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...

Langdon Smith (4 January 18588 April 1908) was an American journalist and poet, most famous today for his love poem "Evolution".

Sourced[edit]

Evolution (1895; 1909)[edit]

The first few stanzas of this poem were written and published in the New York Herald in 1895. It was worked upon for many years and later published in full in the New York Journal sometime before 1906, and posthumously published in illustrated and annotated book form as Evolution : A Fantasy (1909). "Evolution" full text at WikisourceEvolution : A Fantasy (1909) (PDF at Google) - Various formats at The Internet Archive
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.
  • 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.
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...
  • 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.
  • 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.
And, oh! what beautiful years were these when our hearts clung each to each;
When life was filled and our senses thrilled in the first faint dawn of speech.
  • 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.
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.
  • And, oh! what beautiful years were these
    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 o’er the nursing sod,
    The shadows broke and soul awoke
    In a strange, dim dream of God.
Then I hid me close to the reedy tarn, where the mammoth came to drink; Through brawn and bone I drave the stone and slew him upon the brink.
  • 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.
  • 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 brawn and bone I drave the stone
    And slew him upon the brink.
God wrought our souls from the Tremadoc beds and furnished them wings to fly; we sowed our spawn in the world's dim dawn, and I know that it shall not die...
  • Loud I howled through the moonlit wastes,
    Loud answered our kith and kin;
    From west and east to the crimson feast
    The clan came tramping in.
  • I carved that 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 tusks were gone.
...Though cities have sprung above the graves where the crook–bone men made war and the ox–wain creaks o'er the buried caves where the mummied mammoths are.
  • 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 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;
    We 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 made war
    And the ox–wain creaks o'er the buried caves
    Where the mummied mammoths are.
  • For we know the clod, by the grace of God
    Will quicken with voice and breath;
    And we know that Love, with gentle hand
    Will beckon from death to death.
    • These lines just before the final four do not appear in most published versions, but were included in the version published in The Book of Poetry (1927) edited by Edwin Markham. It is not known whether they existed in the second newspaper publication, of which no copies are known to survive, or derived from manuscript variants.
  • 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.

Quotes about Smith[edit]

He linked inseparably physical life and spiritual life, the so-called vital and eternal sparks... ~ Lewis Allen Browne
  • To weld the theory of soul-transmigration to the reality of evolution was an inspiration that, coming to Langdon Smith in the midst of a busy life, nevertheless sung itself into his heart with a wealth of poetic meaning and suggestion that found its ultimate expression in verses which so securely link his name with those whom no passing moment can plunge into obscurity. ... The crowning glory of "Evolution" is, perhaps, the manner in which he interwove throughout his masterpiece of imagination a golden thread of romance that becomes more and more lustrous as the story unfolds. He linked inseparably physical life and spiritual life, the so-called vital and eternal sparks, as, into the web of the lives that evolve, he wove the woof of love and brought them down through the ages as one.
    • Lewis Allen Browne, in the foreword to Evolution : A Fantasy (1909)
  • Ten seconds into the century, the first issue of the New York Journal of 1 January 1901 fell from the newspaper’s complex of fourteen high-speed presses. The first issue was rushed by automobile across pavements slippery with mud and rain to a waiting express train, reserved especially for the occasion. The newspaper was folded into an engraved silver case and carried aboard by Langdon Smith, a young reporter known for his vivid prose style. At speeds that reached eighty miles an hour, the special train raced through the darkness to Washington, D.C., and Smith’s rendezvous with the president, William McKinley. ... the Journal exulted: A banner headline spilled across the front page of the 2 January 1901 issue, asserting the Journal's distinction of having published "the first Twentieth Century newspaper. . . in this country," and that the first issue had been delivered at considerable expense and effort directly to McKinley.

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