The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin

December 1831
we set sail for
the New World

Latin America
Patagonia
Tierra del Fuego
Chile

the islands of the Pacific
calling our names
but
those damned
heavy southwest gales
pushing us
back
not once but twice

Finally
the ship of our Majesty
the Beagle
our ten-gun brig
under the command
of Captain Fitz Roy

made its way
into the Ocean blue

 

Ch. 1 – St. Jago – Cape de Verd Islands

We landed at Teneriffe
with our chronometric
instruments
on the 6th of January
but were prevented
from getting off
our ship
for fear
that we might bring
Cholera
to the natives

The next morning
the sun rises
behind
the rugged outline
of the Grand Canary island
illuminating
Teneriffe’s Peak
the lower
lands veiled
in fleece clouds

I will never forget
the experience

St. Jago
we’ve landed
on the chief island
of the Cape de Verd archipelago

The neighborhood
of Porto Praya
is desolate
scorched
by the volcanic fires
of past ages
and the
heat
of the tropical sun
the soil is unfit
for vegetable growth

I walk through this scene
this atmosphere
this climate
fresh from the Sea
through the groves
of cocoa-nut trees
with utter happiness
in great contrast
to the dreary
and monotonous
English world
I had known all my life

The island is sterile
and grand
austere
unspoiled
a single green leaf
is nowhere to be found
over the wide
lava plains

The goats
flock together
amongst
the cows

Rain is short lived
except for those moments
in the year
when it comes down
in heavy torrents
giving way immediately
afterwards to
a light spring vegetation
soon withering
to produce hay

Porto Praya used to be
clothed with trees
but the destruction
of earth’s forces
has left it naked

The broad flat-bottomed
valleys
are adorned with the
thickets of leafless bushes
Few creatures
live amongst them
the most common
bird
the Kingfisher
tamely sitting on the
branches
of the castor-oil
plant
darting
on the grasshoppers
and lizards

It is brightly colored
but not quite
as beautiful as
its English cousin

I ride off with two officers
for Ribeira Grande
a small village
a few miles
to the east

We reach the valley
of St. Martin
with its typical
dull brown
look
but a small rill
of water produces
the most incredible
margin of
luxurious vegetation

Arriving in Ribeira
I am surprised
to see a ruined fort
and cathedral
this little town
before the harbor
became filled
with boats
was the islands
principal city
now looking
quite melancholy
yet still picturesque

My black Padre guide
and Spanish
Peninsula war
veteran-interpreter
tell me about
these ancient buildings
showing me where
governors and
captain-generals
of the island
have been buried
with tombstones
dating back
to the sixteenth century

The ornamentations
reminded me of Europe
in the middle
of a church
grew a large clump of
bananas
and adjacent to it
was a hospital
containing a dozen
miserable-looking
patients

We returned to Venda
to eat our dinner
where a number
of men, women and children
jet-black skin
collected to watch
our ruminations

We were all merry
laughing with great mirth
we went to the local
cathedral boasting
a small organ
which sent forth
its singular
cries into the night’s sky

We gave the black priest
a few shillings
and patted the Spaniard
on his head
saying with much candor
that his color-skin
made no difference
to ourselves
as we boarded
our ponies
back to Porto Praya

We then rode out
to St. Domingo
in the center of the island
across a small plain
where the acacia
trees had been stunted
in growth
the trade winds
bending them
at right angles

Our tracks
got lost
leaving little impression
on the barren soil
and we found
ourselves instead
making our way
to Fuentes
a beautiful little
place
with its small stream
and prosperous well-being
the inhabitants
moving about
small black children
naked
carrying firewood
bundles half
as big as themselves

We see a large flock
of guinea-fowl
but they were wary of
us
we dared not approached
like partridges
on a rainy September
day
they ran around heads
held high
ready to take flight
at any moment

St. Domingo
possessed a beauty
in stark contarst
to the rest of the
gloominess
of the island
lying at the bottom
of the valley
it surprised us
all

Surrounded by lofty
and jagged walls
of stratified lava
the black rocks
affording a most
striking contrast
with the bright
green vegetation
and the stream
of crisp clear water

It was a feast-day
the village brimming
with people
20 young black
girls dancing in their
snow-white linen
and large shawls
and colored turbans
dancing and beating
in time with
their hands upon
their legs
in a frenzy of wild energy

In the morning
the mountains projected
themselves
upon the heavy
bank of dark
blue cloud
the air deeply
saturated with moisture
or at least so it seemed
my hygrometer
indicating otherwise

The unusual dryness
accompanied
by constant flashes
of lightning
how uncommon
this degree of
aerial transparency
in such a weatherous
state!

The atmospheric haze
is riddled with impalpably
fine dust-fall
which has injured
some of our astronomical
instruments.

I collect a little packed
of this dust
having been caught
up in our masthead
on board our ship
which I send to Professor
Ehrenberg

He will tell me it
consists of infusoria
with siliceous shields
with no less
than 67 different organic
forms!

This dust falls
so greatly
it has been known
to injure passengers
eyes
even to throw whole
ships off course
and run them aground

Tiny particles of stone
mixed with the sporules
of cryptogamic plants
wreaking havoc
on men and ship alike

The sea cliffs 45 feet high
run alongside
the coast for miles
the result neither
of a volcano nor
a crater emerging
but the flow of
the streams

The white stratum
consisting of calcareous
rock with shells
embedded in it
resting on ancient
volcanic effluence
solidified and covered
with a stream of
basalt
the lava
giving way to crystalline limestone
and compactment
and radiating fibres of arragonite
alongside
the many red cindery
hills

I observe a large
sea Slug
an Aplysia
dirty yellow
colored with a puple
vein
the water flows
over it
as it feeds
on delicate sea-weed
growing among
the muddy and shallow
waters and stone

In its stomach
I found several
small pebbles
like in the gizzard
of a bird

This slug when
disturbed
emits a fine purplish-reddish
fluid
staining the surrounding
waters
and all over its body
it gives off an acrid secretion
causing a sharp
stinging sensation
like that of the Portugese
Man-of-War

I observe the habits
of the Octopus and cuttle-fish
which
swim in the pools of the water
tail first
darting back and forth
like arrows
discolouring
their surroundings
with a dark chestnut-brown ink

These marine creatures
escape detection
with an extraordinary
chameleon-like
power
changing their colors
according to the ground
over which they pass
in the depths
their shade in a brownish
purple
but in shallow waters
they appear yellowish-green

With their strong arms
and suction cups
they stick inside
the crevices of narrow
rocks
escaping capture

They swim surrounded
by clouds of hyacinth
red
and brown
shocking anything
it touches
with blackness
like the skin
being scratched
by a needle

I am amazed
at their ability
and cunning
and techniques
for escape

the cuttle-fish
sprays me
with water
shooting out
a siphon
in the under-side
of its body

in my cabin
later on
i notice
its slight
phosphorescence
in the darkness

We pass by the island
of St. Paul’s in the Atlantic
jutting out
at its height
only 50 feet above sea
level
it is less than a mile
all the way around
made up of a complexity
of cherty rock
felspathic nature
and thin veins
of serpentine

From a distance
it appears
brilliantly white
in part due
to its vast multitude
of seafowl
as well as its
hard pearly
gloss
intimately connected
to the surface
of the rocks

Though only
a tenth of an inch
thick
it contains much
animal matter
no doubt the result
of the actions of
the rain
or the bird’s dung

Below the guano
are stalactitic
branching bodies
with extremities
as hard as teeth
enamel
or scratch plate-glass

to find such hard
substances
and coloured
shiny things
reformed
through inorganic means
from dead organic
matter
truly shows the power
of nature’s beauty

St. Paul shows
us only two kinds
of birds the booby
a gannet
and the noddy
a tern

both are tame
and stupid looking
unaccustomed
to visitors
i could have easily
killed them both
with my geological
hammer

The booby lays
its eggs on the rock
bare
while the noddy
makes a simple
nest of seaweed

a small fish
is placed
nearby by
the male partner
but amusingly
a large active
Graspus crab
inhabiting
the crevices
of the rocks
steals it away

It is know
that these crabs
will even
go so far
as to steal
small birds!

There are no plants
not even lichens
the poetic noble
tropical plants
described
as belonging
to the coral islet
when first formed
is probably inaccurate

Rather
there are but many
insects
spiders
flies and ticks
moths
and beetles beneath
the dung

This small rock
here in the tropical
seas is surrounded
by schools of fish
and the sharks
and seamen
in boats
compete for
their capture

February is coming
to an end
we stop by the island
of fernando noronha
with its conical hill
having been pushed
up i believe
when still in a semi-fluid
state

We move past its
columnar rock
and laurel-like trees
and pink flowers
to
Bahia
San Salvador Brazil

The Brazilian forest
is elegantly strewn
with grasses
parasitic plants
and beautiful flowers
the foliage is a glossy
green
and the luxurious
vegetation
fills my heart
admiringly

A paradox of sounds
and silence
fills the shady parts
of the woods
the insects are so loud
they can be heard
by vessels anchored
several hundred yards
from the shore
yet within the forest
depths
there is a universal
silence which reins
supreme

On my way back
I am caught
in a storm
torrential rains

The whole coast
of Brazil
at least 2,000 miles
is filled
with solid rock
of a granite constitution

Not far away
where a rivulet enters
the sea
the cataracts of the great
rivers Orinoco Nile and Congo
syenitic rocks
are coated black
as if polished by plumbago

There is a coating
thin of oxides
manganes and iron
where the water is most
quick
as the indians say
“the rocks are black
where the water is white”

I notice the habits
fo the Diodon antennatus
fish which
is able to blow itself
up by swallowing
a mixture of air and water
it moves about
distended
with the use of its pectoral fins

This fish defends itself
by spitting out the water
with severe bites
and a curious noise
coming from its jaw
its body when inflated
becomes erect and pointy
with papillae
and it secretes a beautiful
carmine-red fibrousity
from its body

I have been told
that such Diodon have
been found alive
within shark’s stomachs
where they have
killed their unwelcomed
host
eating its way
out of the large monster
so much for little
soft fish

At sea
we pass by a reddish-brown
coating of what appears to be
chopped bits of hay
but really they are
minute cylindrical confervae
infinite in number
stretching out to distances
of 10 yards wide
known by Captain Cook
as sea-sawdust

Passing through waters
discolored so
with so many small
living organisms
microscopic animals
the color changing
from red clay to
dark chocolate
the weather calm
the Ocean abounds
with teeming life!

I have seen waters
filled with crustacea
what the sealers
call whale-food
feasted on by the terns
cormorants
and immense
herds of great
unwieldy seals

I have too seen little
gelatinous balls
in which numerous
minute spherical ovules
were imbedded
floating in the waters

and I wonder how
these various bodies
amalgamations
of animal life
appear in the
Oceans and Sea
for unlike the crabs
they are not
regimented
coinstantaneous
like soldiers
but rather coming
together
according to
some other dictate
of nature
and life-flow

to be
held together
until the winds
or waves
break them
apart by the millions
of millions
into the great
Oceanic pool