Knopf Poem-a-Day: April 3, Ruth Padel’s “Stealing the Affection of Dogs”

Ruth Padel is the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, to whom she gives a living voice in Darwin: A Life in Poems. The childhood poem below is from the period just following the loss of Darwin’s mother, in 1817, when he was eight. In an epigraph to the poem – intimate and informative, as are all the notes and quotations which flank Padel’s verses, and augment our understanding – she quotes Charles’s sister Caroline, who said of him, “He does not seem to have known half how much our father loved him.”

Stealing the Affection of Dogs

Bits of the world blow towards him and come apart
       on the wind. He invents. He lies.
‘I had a passion for dogs. They seemed to know.
       I was adept in robbing their masters of their love.’
He steals apples from the orchard, gives them to boys
       in a cottage and tells them to watch how fast he runs.
He climbs a beech by the wall of the locked kitchen garden
       and dreams himself into the inner gloss
of raspberry canes. A forest, glowing in its net.
       Emerald coal in a watchman’s brazier.
He straddles the coping, fits a stick in the hole at the foot
       of a flower-pot, and pulls. Peaches and plums
fall in. Enough to have begun an orchard of his own.
       My father’s. Valuable. The words hang in the trees
when the soft blobs are gone. He hides his loot
       in shrubbery and runs to tell:
he has found a hoard of stolen fruit!

Learn more about Ruth Padel’s Darwin: A Life in Poems

Excerpt from DARWIN: A LIFE IN POEMS. Copyright © 2009 by Ruth Padel. All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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