Friday, February 13, 2009

If you eat my ice cream I'm not going

I briefly heard a mention on BBC News at Ten last night about Lonesome George, the last surviving Pinta (formerly Abingdon) Island Tortoise, a subspecies of the gient Galápagos tortoise. I can't find a record of it online, so I don't know if the news was that he has died, or just that there was no real news yesterday. But it reminded me of Al Purdy's poem 'Adam and No Eve', about the same tortoise (yes, literally about the same individual):

They have posted reward money
these scientists
but no female has ever been found
Lonesome George's relatives
brothers and sisters and cousins
stern great aunts and harrumphing uncles
are gone from Abingdon Island
and the world

It's awe-inspiring to think that while Purdy is now dead, in the time since the poem was written George has advanced slightly into middle age. Even if he's at the upper end of estimates of his age, he'll probably still outlive me.

The poem of course laments the fact that 'Not again shall mud conceive/or the stars bear witness', that 'one female tortoise (shaped/somewhat like an old shoe)/has taken [love] with her alone/into the darkness'. It brings death into odd relief to think of a particular individual whose own death will also be that of his species. (I wouldn't be surprised to see Purdy's stock rise, in view of his environmental concerns.) It is also sad in a spurious anthropomorphic way, to think of an old man utterly alone in the world (he isn't an old man, of course, but he looks like one). Then I think that on the contrary, he is oblivious and behaves exactly like any other tortoise would do if it existed, and this gives him a sort of dignity. And then, as is dignity's way, this makes me want to laugh at him. And back to sadness.


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