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Evolution (1895; 1909)
- 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 Wikisource · Evolution : A Fantasy (1909) (PDF at Google) · Various formats at The Internet Archive · adaptation of the poem to music by Unipop, on their album Unilove (1982)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.