I wrote the following poem for my presidential address at the Society of Systematic Biology/Evolution/American Society of Naturalists meeting in Knoxville, Tennessee, in June 2001.
The Tree of Life
I think that I shall never see
A thing so awesome as the Tree
That links us all in paths of genes
Down into depths of time unseen;
Whose many branches spreading wide
House wondrous creatures of the tide,
Ocean deep and mountain tall,
Darkened cave and waterfall.
Among the branches we may find
Creatures there of every kind,
From microbe small to redwood vast,
From fungus slow to cheetah fast.
As glaciers move, strikes asteroid
A branch may vanish in the void:
At Permian's end and Tertiary's door,
The Tree was shaken to its core.
The leaves that fall are trapped in time
Beneath cold sheets of sand and lime;
But new leaves sprout as mountains rise,
Breathing life anew ’'neath future skies.
On one branch the leaves burst forth:
A jointed limb of firework growth.
With inordinate fondness for splitting lines,
Armored beetles formed myriad kinds.
Wandering there among the leaves,
In awe of variants Time conceived,
We ponder the shape of branching fates,
And elusive origins of their traits.
Three billion years the Tree has grown
From replicators' first seed sown
To branches rich with progeny:
The wonder of phylogeny.
© 2001, David R. Maddison
Poems written for my daughter when she was 10 years old: