Darwin's Ark

Appleman, Philip

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Oct-09-1996


This long poem tells a story within a story. The framing story is Charles Darwin falling asleep and thinking, "as he always does, of animals . . . . " His dream turns into the story of the Deluge and Noah and his ark. Poor Noah is a bumbling 600 year old man, who much against his own inclinations, is told by God to build the ark and, later, to stuff it with a pair of every kind of animal. Well, Noah's sons think this whole project is stupid, but they eventually go along with it.

The most difficult part was finding and capturing the animals, two of every species, including in the end, "sixteen thousand hungry birds / lusting for the eighteen hundred thousand insects, / and the twelve thousand snakes and lizards / nipping at the seven thousand mammals, / and everyone slipping and sliding around / on the sixty-four thousand worms / and the one hundred thousand spiders--." When the deluge began and the waters rose, the ark floated past all the desperate, dying people, until the last woman "holding her baby over her head" went under "and God was well pleased."


This long poem (approximately 330 lines) is a delightful piece of work that combines humor, science, and religion. Darwin's perspective, of course, is on the animals and what it would be like in an ark which actually had a pair of every species on board. The light, homey style of the poem continually contrasts the day-to-day experience of Noah and his family with the tragic consequences of God's decision to massacre all other living beings on the earth. At the end of the poem, as Darwin has awakened and lies there thinking about Noah, he imagines a Noah who believes that he will be the father of a new race of people who would never sin again, "for if they did / all that killing would be / for nothing, a terrible / embarrassment to God."

Primary Source

Darwin's Ark


Indiana Univ. Press

Place Published