The Darwin Poems
University of Western Australia Press $24.95 pb, 220 pp
Emily Ballou’s first book of poems opens with a quotation from Coleridge’s Definitions of Poetry: ‘Poetry is not the proper antithesis to prose but to science. Poetry is opposed to science.’ A book of poems on the life of Charles Darwin must be a refutation of this idea, though I had expected a more direct return to the comment which, two hundred years after Coleridge wrote it, has accrued greater meaning. In Coleridge’s time, the dazzling and potentially alienating specialisation of the sciences had not occurred, and C.P. Snow had never hailed the ‘two cultures’. Anti-intellectualism had not yet colluded with postmodern suspicion of reason to decry the malign, hegemonic nature of Western science. Coleridge, like many educated men of his time, was conversant with the latest advances in most branches of the sciences. He enjoyed a close friendship with Humphry Davy, the foremost scientist of the day, who also wrote poetry.