Talk at the Linnean Society

This Wednesday lunchtime (1st October) I will be giving a talk at the Linnean Society on how poets have responded to changing conceptions of the natural world, from when the eighteenth-century naturalist Carolus Linnaeus first devised an ordered system for classifying plants and animals, to Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace’s discovery of evolution by natural selection, and beyond. I’ll be looking at a wide range of poets, starting with Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus Darwin, who wrote a speculative account of organic evolution in verse at the beginning of the nineteenth century, moving on to Victorian poets, including Tennyson’s famous account of ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’ in his elegy In Memoriam, and ending up with the modern American poet and editor of Darwin Philip Appleman, who is one of the most outspoken atheists writing in America today.

I am excited to be speaking at the Linnaean Society, as I’ll be in the very room where Darwin and Wallace’s theory was first announced in 1858. The audience, now as then, will be made up mainly of biologists, so I am looking forward very much too to this opportunity to show working scientists how poetry can help to explore the world that they are uncovering through their scientific research.

John Holmes

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