Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Autobiography of a Lungworm by Roy Fuller

The long-standing sense that we could read the intentions and beneficent wisdom of God in the work of his hands, the book of nature, was shaken in Victorian times by a growing understanding of parasitism. For example, the life cycle of the Ichneumon Wasp seemed both cruel and unusual to Darwin. If it tells us of God's nature. he seemed to think, the news is too depressing to bear.

The poem "Autobiography of a Lungworm," on the other hand, brilliantly extracts a life-affirming message from the life cycle of a parasite. In it, Roy Fuller shows that Darwin might have seen things differently if he had looked at them from the point of view of the parasite.


My normal dwelling is the lungs of swine,
My normal shape a worm,
But other dwellings, other shapes are mine
Within my natural term.
Dimly I see my life, of all, the sign,
Of better lives the germ.

The pig, though I am innofensive, coughs,
Finding me irritant:
My eggs go with the contents of the troughs
From mouth to excrement--
The pig thus thinks, perhaps, he forever doffs
His niggling resident.

The eggs lie unconsidered in the dung
Upon the farmyard floor,
For from the scarlet and sustaining lung:
But happily a poor
And humble denizen provides a rung
To make ascension sure.

The earthworm eats the eggs; inside the warm
Cylinder larvae hatch:
For years, if necessary, in this form
I wait the lucky match
That will return me to my cherished norm,
My ugly pelt dispatch.

Strangely, it is the pig himself becomes
The god inside the car:
His greed devours the earthworms; so the slums
Of his intestines are
The setting for the act when clay succumbs
And force steers for its star.

The larvae burrow through the bowel wall
And, having to the dregs
Drained ignominy, gain the lung's great hall.
They change. Once more like pegs,
Lungworms are anchored to the rise and fall
--And start to lay their eggs.

What does it mean? The individual,
Nature, mutation, strife?
I feel, though I am simple, still the whole
Is complex; and that life--
A huge doomed throbbing--has a wiry soul
That must escape the knife.


(pp. 1146-1147 of The Norton Anthology of Poetry, Third Edition, 1983)

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