When you were a tadpole, and I was a fish

1.166 – 1.103 Billion years ago. The atmosphere is one percent oxygen or so thanks to photosynthetic algae. The ocean still largely anoxic and thick with sulfates and sulfate-eating bacteria. Eukaryotes have been around for a while, and are diversified, although still all single celled (as far as we know).

Sexual reproduction begins with eukaryotes, and by now some groups are presumably differentiated into male and female. For those of you who are not bdelloid rotifiers, here’s a poem for Valentine’s Day. Martin Gardener has a nice account of the poem, in his book “When you were a tadpole and I was a fish,” and here’s a video of the poem narrated by Jean Shepherd.

Evolution
By Langdon Smith (1858-1908)

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 life again.

We were amphibians, scaled and tailed,

And drab as a dead man’s hand;

We coiled at ease ‘neath the dripping trees

Or trailed through the mud and sand.

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 passed.

Then light and swift through the jungle trees

We swung in our airy flights,

Or breathed in the balms of the fronded palms

In the hush of the moonless nights;

And oh! what beautiful years were there

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 over the nursing sod

The shadows broke and the 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.

Deep in the gloom of a fireless cave,

When the night fell o’er the plain

And the moon hung red o’er the river bed

We mumbled the bones of the slain.

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 the brawn and bone I drove the stone

And slew him upon the brink.

Loud I howled through the moonlit wastes,

Loud answered our kith and kin;

From west to east to the crimson feast

The clan came tramping in.

O’er joint and gristle and padded hoof

We fought and clawed and tore,

And cheek by jowl with many a growl

We talked the marvel o’er.

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

Til our brutal tush was 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 trail is on the Kimmeridge clay

And the scarp of the Purbeck flags;

We have left our bones in the Bagshot stones

And deep in the Coralline crags;

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 furnish’d them wings to fly;

He 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.

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.

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One thought on “When you were a tadpole, and I was a fish

  1. Pingback: Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen | Logarithmic History

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