Monday, June 1, 2020

It is unethical to teach evolution without confronting racism and sexism (updated, additional resources)

It's been 1.5 years since I posted this: https://ecodevoevo.blogspot.com/2018/11/it-is-unethical-to-teach-evolution-no.html

There were so many ugly comments under its repost at the Evolution Institute.  But what was actually worse than the white supremacist shit on social media was a not insignificant resistance among professors and teachers who teach biology/evolution and who felt strongly that confronting racism was not their job. 

"There's no room in the semester" was common, and there was also plenty of "that's not my problem." 

Maybe recent, intense anti-racist activism in response to a rapid series of horrific, racist violence on top of a racist pandemic on top of a blatantly and shamelessly racist Administration has changed some of those scientists' minds about what is and what is not their problem.  

If so, perhaps these resources I'm sharing below will help others design their approaches to tearing down racism and sexism in their evolution courses, like I try to do. 

In the 2018 post, I suggested that people bring in anthropologists, social scientists, journalists, historians, etc to deal with racism and sexism if they'd rather collaborate or punt on the problem, but I guess that working with colleagues in other departments isn't taken as a serious suggestion. No idea. But it was a serious suggestion. I'm not great at this but I'm always trying to get better and I'm more than willing to help colleagues who are less experienced than I am. I'm experienced enough to get my human evolution course designated to count for "diversity and inclusion" general education credit and so are many anthropologists, some of whom may be working at your very institution! Look around!

I teach a whole unit on race/racism and sexism in my introductory Human Origins and Evolution course (APG 201). It's at the very end. I begin the unit with our first coverage of Neanderthals and we explore how they've been othered throughout history. Students easily see how the history of the scientific treatment of Neanderthals fits with how Linnaeus and his peers and those he influenced (like Darwin) othered and categorized humans, justifying human oppression with bad evolutionary "logic," in an increasingly global political economy through to today.  Darwin's just-so story about how intelligence evolved is just horrid and so are his passages about the "lower races" and how they relate to other primates (as opposed to Europeans who are, you guessed it, the higher races). It's always a struggle to decide whether to read those passages from Descent of Man aloud or not; some semesters I have and others I haven't, but I always share Darwin's b.s. on race (and gender), even if I don't read it out loud.  After that history lesson about the foundations of evolutionary biology, we cover eugenics, Ota Benga, and how race, the system of oppression, has had negative biological consequences on human health.  It's important that students learn that "race" is not a synonym for biological variation, ancestry, or skin color. Despite many of them being so progressive, many still think "race" is just human biological variation. It's clear, for many of them who take APG 201, that there is no race without racism which is why race is not merely about how humans vary in skin color and so talking about skin color variation, for example, is not talking about race. We consider, deeply, how perceived physical differences are too easily employed as evidence for imaginary cognitive and behavioral differences. We challenge the old, exclusive, oppressive history of the telling of our shared human origins story in order to tell a new story that can be embraced by us all. 

Not being able to lead those weeks of lecture and discussion in the classroom, and, instead, having to somehow lead 120 students through these issues remotely during the pandemic this semester wasn't ideal.  But the discussion prompts that they worked on, remotely, are prompts that I will be keeping even when we return to face-to-face learning. I'm pasted them here, and at the end of this post, I included the letter I wrote to my students at the end of the semester. 


Wednesday, April 15
Ancestry is not race is not human biological variation

TODAY’S PROMPT: Distinguish all three of the following from one another: ancestry, race, and human biological variation.

Resources for your contributions towards your group’s answer to today’s prompt. These are the only resources you may use. Obviously there are far more than you need in order to contribute and obviously they are not all required. 

·Human Races are not like dog breeds - Norton et al. (EEO)
https://evolution-outreach.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12052-019-0109-y
·         Chapter 15: Ten Facts about human variation – Marks (Human Evolutionary Biology)
                https://webpages.uncc.edu/~jmarks/pubs/tenfacts.pdf (copy and paste that URL into your  browser because just clicking on it may not work)
·         There’s No Scientific Basis for Race—It's a Made-Up Label: It's been used to define and separate people for millennia. But the concept of race is not grounded in genetics—Kolbert (NatGeo) https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/04/race-genetics-science-africa/
·         Surprise! Africans are not all the same (or why we need diversity in science) – Lasisi
·         Human Skin Color Variation (NMNH): http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/genetics/skin-color
·         Skin color is an illusion – Nina Jablonski (14 mins video): https://www.ted.com/talks/nina_jablonski_skin_color_is_an_illusion?language=en
·         Skin Deep. By: KOLBERT, ELIZABETH, National Geographic, 00279358, Apr2018, Vol. 233, Issue 4 (via URI library, and you may have to go in and find it yourself, but here’s the link just in case… ) http://web.a.ebscohost.com.uri.idm.oclc.org/ehost/detail/detail?vid=5&sid=a198d26e-2dc0-4a4e-90fb-5bef0a9b910c%40sdc-v-sessmgr01&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=129188416&db=a9h


Friday, April 17
There is no race without racism; Racist science

TODAY’S PROMPT: Support the fact that there is no “race” without racism.

Resources for your contributions towards your group’s answer to today’s prompt. These are the only resources you may use. Obviously there are far more than you need in order to contribute and obviously they are not all required.

·         'National Geographic' Reckons With Its Past: 'For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist'
·         There's no such thing as a 'pure' European—or anyone else – Gibbons (Science)
·         Frederick Douglass’s fight against scientific racism – Herschthal (NYT)
·         The unwelcome revival of race science—Evans  (The Guardian)
·         A lot of Southern whites are a little bit black – Ingraham (Washington Post)
·         Skin Deep. By: KOLBERT, ELIZABETH, National Geographic, 00279358, Apr2018, Vol. 233, Issue 4 (via URI library, and you may have to go in and find it yourself, but here’s the link just in case… ) http://web.a.ebscohost.com.uri.idm.oclc.org/ehost/detail/detail?vid=5&sid=a198d26e-2dc0-4a4e-90fb-5bef0a9b910c%40sdc-v-sessmgr01&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=129188416&db=a9h
·         From the Belgian Congo to the Bronx Zoo (NPR): http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5787947
·         [Note! This is a fictional account based on the real history.]  A True and Faithful Account of Mr. Ota Benga the Pygmy, Written by M. Berman, Zookeeper – Mansbach  http://adammansbach.com/other/otabenga.html
·         [Note! This is very dark sarcasm and not to be taken literally.] How to write about Africa – Wainaina (Granta):  https://granta.com/how-to-write-about-africa/
·         Anthropological genetics: Inferring the history of our species through the analysis of DNA – Hodgson & Disotell (Evolution: Education and Outreach)
·         Paternity Testing: Blood Types and DNA – Adams (Nature Ed)
·         Colonialism and narratives of human origins in Asia and Africa— Athreya and Ackerman
·         #WakandanSTEM: Teaching the evolution of skin color—Lasisi
·         In the Name of Darwin – Kevles (PBS) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/darwin/nameof/
·         Why be against Darwin? https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/ajpa.22163
·         Human Skin Color Variation (NMNH): http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/genetics/skin-color
·         On the Origin of White Power – Johnson (SciAm blogs)
·         White People Are Noticing Something New: Their Own Whiteness—Bazelon (The New York Times) https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/13/magazine/white-people-are-noticing-something-new-their-own-whiteness.html
·         Surprise! Africans are not all the same (or why we need diversity in science) – Lasisi
·         Why white supremacists are chugging milk (and why geneticists are alarmed) – Harmon (NYT)
·         Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis - Villarosa (The New York Times) https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/11/magazine/black-mothers-babies-death-maternal-mortality.html
·         The labor of racism –Davis (Anthrodendum) https://anthrodendum.org/2018/05/07/the-labor-of-racism/
·         Human Races are not like dog breeds - Norton et al. (EEO)
https://evolution-outreach.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12052-019-0109-y
·         Against Human Nature—Ingold
·         Skin color is an illusion – Nina Jablonski (14 mins video): https://www.ted.com/talks/nina_jablonski_skin_color_is_an_illusion?language=en
·         Black Americans Face Alarming Rates of Coronavirus Infection in Some States (NYTimes) https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/07/us/coronavirus-race.html
April 22
Sex, gender, sexism, and science

TODAY’S PROMPT: Consult your friends, family, or the Internet, or all and you’ll find that people associate evolution with sexism (like they also do with racism).  Explain this association with either (a) science’s history of ignoring and misinterpreting the evolution of the human female, and/or (b) the enduring, infuriating misapplication of bad science to justify the evolved “inferiority” of women.


Resources for your contributions towards your group’s answer to today’s prompt. These are the only resources you may use. Obviously there are far more than you need in order to contribute and obviously they are not all required. 

·         Sex Redefined – Ainsworth (Nature)
·         The book that fights sexism with science – review of Saini’s book (Guardian)
 Darwin was sexist and so are many modern scientists – Horgan (Sci Am) https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/darwin-was-sexist-and-so-are-many-modern-scientists/
·         Bluebirds, babies, and orgasms: the women scientists who fought Darwinism’s sexist myths – Saini (Prospect) https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/science-and-technology/bluebirds-babies-and-orgasms-the-women-scientists-who-fought-darwinisms-sexist-myths
·         How Donald Trump Got Human Evolution Wrong – Dunsworth (Washington Post – In case this is paywalled for you, I have posted the pdf under Resources on Sakai)
·         Sexual selection – Brennan (Nature Ed)  http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/sexual-selection-13255240
·         How the alt-right’s sexism lures men into white supremacy – Romano (Vox)
https://www.vox.com/culture/2016/12/14/13576192/alt-right-sexism-recruitment
·         The Clitoris, Uncovered: An Intimate History (scroll down to see 8 mins video) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-clitoris-uncovered-an-intimate-history/

May 14, 2020

Dear APG 201ers,

This is my last email blast to the class.

Grades are posted. Don’t panic if there is a mistake. Mistakes are possible because of these strange circumstances and because mistakes are in my genome. Just double-check your grades in the gradebook on Sakai and then let me know what’s wrong, ASAP. If you want to take the S/U option, then get cracking immediately with the URI procedures (https://web.uri.edu/coronavirus/alternative-grade-option/overview/).

Your Books of Origins were the best I’ve ever seen. The sheer volume of awesomeness was overwhelming! I wish you could all bask in this pile of art and ideas as I have—truly wonder-full.

If you plan on returning to campus when it reopens for face-to-face classes (whenever that will be), then please come by my office (Chafee 132A) and pick your book up. Pick your friends’ up too if that helps them out. It will be great to see you in person! I’d love to talk about answers to  any questions you posed directly to me in your book or that you would like to chat about, period. I will hold onto these books through summer 2021.

If you take any more courses with me, which I hope you do (APG 282G Sapiens: The changing nature of human evolution; APG 399 Sex and Reproduction in Our Species; APG 411 Paleoanthropology;  APG 412 Primatology) then you can just get your book then. I hope you do take more anthropology courses even if they’re not biologically-themed (i.e. taught by me) because we have a great program that has lots of general education offerings for people who like to dabble in anthro but don’t wish to add the anthropology major. Though, you should add the anthropology major because it complements everything wonderfully. To find out more about that and/or the minor, just reach out to me! 

If you are not planning to return to campus because you’re graduating, transferring, or for whatever reason, then please email me your address so that I can snail-mail your back to you. I am not extending this offer to those who are returning to campus because the cost will add up and we can just hand it off in person!

Congratulations on getting through this semester. Whether you think it was a success or not, it’s over. Before I wish you a good summer, I want to leave you with two important sentiments that I wish I could have shared with you in the classroom…

  1. Facts are good and all, but…
While it may seem like learning facts is the point of courses like APG 201, they’re not.  You’re in college to learn how to make knowledge, that is, to learn about how knowledge gets made so that you can make knowledge your own and so that you make knowledge yourself. No one goes to culinary school to learn recipes or to learn about cooking.  They go to culinary school to learn how to cook, to learn how to make food. No one joins a sports team to learn the rules of the sport. They do it to play the sport. Going to college is no different. You are not here to learn about something, you’re here to do something.  What is that something? Making knowledge, which is, simply put learning and thinking and learning and thinking, on repeat, forever. Facts are good and all but what good are facts if you can’t think like a professional thinker about them? Thinking like a professional feels especially crucial now in this pandemic and also this time of political disinformation. Thinking is our species’ superpower but for most of us, realizing our potential requires much practice and much training, and that’s what you’re doing in college. Facts came from human thinking. That’s you. Thinking. You. Thinking is active, it’s doing. You’re here to do. There are facts and there are stories we tell about those facts, which are not the facts themselves but are the way all humans make sense of the facts! It’s up to YOU to tell better stories than your ancestors. You will because you’ll have no choice but also because you’ll be trained thinkers. It is your superpower.

  1. Being kind to people isn’t going to end racism, sexism, etc… It takes hard work.
Everyone experiences racism and sexism. If you are a man, then you experience it by not being a woman.  If you are white, you experience it by being arbitrarily privileged over people of color merely for being white.  If you have never had a negative racist or sexist thing directed at you, those experiences still affect you personally because someone you know has experienced them, and their lives affect yours. No one is an island; Everyone’s lives affect everyone else’s and that’s never been more palpable or salient for so many people than it is now during this pandemic.

By your writing, I glean that a good majority of you have bought the myth that racism is treating people badly because of their race and that racism is mostly a thing of the past (presumably because you don’t see people treating people badly very often).  I call that racism a “myth” not because it’s not real and harmful, but because believing that is all that racism is, is to obscure the much tougher issues that are harder for white people to know exist, to understand, and to try to help change if/when they do know they exist and understand them. Racism is built into our sociocultural, economic, and political systems which were founded in, and on the backs of, a horrific slave-labor economy that simultaneously drove away and killed indigenous peoples across this continent. Racism is built into how America runs and, in spite of the Statue of Liberty, the United States has historically been terribly anti-immigrant too. Because of history we have present-day systematic oppression that excludes people from equal opportunity, from equal protection, from full participation, and from power.  That’s not freedom!

Not knowing that racism is built into our culture is like not knowing that we’re built from ancient fishes, monkeys, apes, and our parents. Once you know history, you can’t deny how it has shaped our present.  “We are history” was an important quote from Alice Roberts’ book for so many of you.  One important difference between our evolutionary history and our sociocultural-political-economic history, is that while our biology cannot evolve into the future without our parents’, ape, monkey, fish (etc) ancestry encoded in our genomes, our culture CAN evolve into the future in such a way that eradicates the racism that is encoded in our social, political, and economic institutions. Please, do keep being kind. But, white people, we must do more than be kind to be not-racists. Being kind  and having beautiful beliefs about how we’re “all one human race” is not enough; it’s not even close to enough.

Instead of squandering their privilege, white people must disrupt and change our society’s white supremacist culture. Instead of squandering their privilege, men must disrupt and change patriarchal traditions of oppression. It should help a great deal to know, as you do as APG 201ers, that racism and sexism have no legit footing in science, human evolution, or fantasies about “human nature. ” We must continue to learn about race and racism and sex and sexism (and other forms of oppression) above and beyond what we’ve done in this course and you must carry that work forward, far beyond what you do at URI, for as long as you’re capable.  I’ll keep learning and fighting too; I promise.  

Have a great summer, and never stop evolving!

Professor Holly Dunsworth





Tuesday, May 5, 2020


Of COVID-19:  When will this be better?
When will this be better?
That’s my question, please!
When will lock-downs open up
So we can stroll just where we choose,
And fearful days come to a stop?
Tell me in a phone call, or just write me a letter

Sunday, May 3, 2020

More diverse versifying diversion

In these somber times, with no real definitively positive or even politically non-comical 'news', I think verse (imperfect as mine may be), rather than the appropriate and well-deserved scolding satire, is what we may need.  It can at least distract us from what we can't help not being distracted from.  So here are some thoughts, perhaps not too grim, of that rhythmic sort:


In the grave reposing
Wherefore would’st thou stay interred
When glee and gambol make the day;
Your sullen mood must be inferred
When you’re so down, so far away!
The pleasures found up here on earth
The dances, games, and hearty cheer
Make rising up the effort worth
Since life entombed’s so very drear.
Play makes the somber spirit rise
And laughter ashen visage glow
While shaking off death’s sullen sighs
It smoothes away the morbid brow:
Thus can one have of earthly reverie a spell
Escaping from the tomb’s remorseless silent knell



And, for good (or bad) measure, in our hard times, another:


The gravestones stayed grave
(A springtime stroll in the old Montague graveyard
holding some of Anne’s ancestors)

Warmed were the stones we strolled through,
  On this summery afternoon,
Yet our forebears sleeping in their tombs
  Seemed not to sense the date:
The season bright had now begun,
  With flowers fresh in bloom,
But instead of celebrating,
  They slept silently in state!

The power of Darwin compels you to doubt him about sex differences

Evolution is true but our evolutionary explanations are always evolving and expanding in their complexity, or at least they should be encouraged to, when evidence supports it.

I've found, however, that compelling stories about human evolution, especially those penned by Darwin, are too often preferred by scientists over others or over complexity.  I think scientists are especially protective of evolutionary stories that preserve certain macho conceptions of masculinity and that are porn-adjacent. So it's no surprise that these stories dominate pop culture's understanding of human evolution.

Everyone knows all about sexual selection.  (Now before I go through it, briefly, you need to promise you'll read the rest of this blog post. I know from actual experience with readers and listeners in the classroom, that lots of folks will mistake this upfront explanation of the idea that I'm about to critique for my endorsement of this stuff. They'll read this part then tune out by the time I get around to critiquing it. Please don't fall for that.)

Okay, right. Everyone knows all about sexual selection. Males compete with other males for sex with females. Winners get sex. This ratchets up, in their descendants, whatever physical attributes got them to win that sex that sent those attributes into the future. And, as arbiters of what's sexy and what's worthy of sex, females decide which male traits get shot into the future, ratcheting up over time what they thought was so sexy in those winners that they had sex with. Didn't you know? Where have you been? Evolution is a game in which the winners get sex and the losers get nothing. It's like Survivor and The Bachelor had a baby that got in a time machine, went back to England in the 1860s, and buddied up with Darwin.

Sexual selection is the dominant evolutionary explanation for why men are taller than women. Men are tall because their tall winning ancestors won the sex. Over time this pulled men's height above the average height of women. That men are taller on average than women is taken to be legitimate evidence for this explanation.

And we're all supposed to be totally cool with that automatic explanatory power of sexual selection. After all, it's Darwin's "second great idea" and he was so forward thinking by giving agency to females!

So many of us who don't research  sexual selection, directly, but who teach human evolution courses feel like we really have no choice but to carry on like this. It's canon. And we're supposed to be grateful that females got the power of choice! See? It's not *all* about males bashing each other apart for opportunities to have sex. It's okay! And sometimes it's about males being beautiful and doing beautiful things to attract females! So get on board, people... human evolution is evolution, too! We're not special. We're just like birds and fruitflies. Humans need to embrace sexual selection as a "force" in our understanding. Get with the program.

I sure did. Sexual selection for big competitive males is what I've been teaching countless students for years and years. But, over those years it became an increasingly bizarre thing.  I stopped growing when I got my period and that's when all the boys, who didn't get periods, kept growing. My period seemed to be the evolutionary reason I'm shorter than the average man. When you think about menstruation, ovaries, puberty, never growing tall enough to touch the rim, not that you have a chip on your shoulder or anything about that, then Darwin's ideas about male competition seem, suddenly, ridiculous.

This is a great time to quote Sarah Hrdy:

“Compared with Darwin’s exquisitely detailed observations of barnacles, coral reefs and orchids—even the emotional development of  his own children—this consummate naturalist’s observations of women and other female primates were curiously cursory.”

And then in late 2016, after years of my teaching and being and increasingly doubting, Jerry Coyne got mad at PZ Myers for his understanding of evolutionary complexity and bias in evolutionary stories, specifically about sexual selection explaining  human height differences. So, I piped up and it's all documented here.

Then, I got to work, because the Coyne thing suddenly made it clear to me how powerful and influential this story is. It was suddenly very important that I do something about it.

The first thing I did was rant about it in the Washington Post, who gave it a clickbait title, which probably drove away the people I was primarily speaking to.

And then I did a lot of reading about how skeletons grow. I sent a paper about it to Evolutionary Anthropology in the summer of 2018. Four reviewers saw the first version. Two of the four disliked it greatly. The other two disliked it less, and so it miraculously got "major revisions" rather than a rejection. Some of the major blowback was against my focus on "proximate" processes (like skeletal growth and hormone effects) which are not "evolutionary" to the minds of some reviewers and many people out there. One reviewer actually wrote that "the estrogen explanation is not evolutionary" to which I can only cry out to the universe: then what is it, magical?

The two mad reviewers dropped off in the second round and three new ones were added, totalling the anonymous reviewers to seven. By this time I had found a paper by some heavyweights and in a heavyweight journal to back up my approach that eschews the "proximate" versus "evolutionary" convention, passed down from Ernst Mayr.

link to paper

Without Laland et al. to cite in revisions, I think my paper would have been rejected. That's how entrenched Mayr's convention is, to my mind. I wouldn't have been permitted to work outside of it, not yet at least. I'm grateful to the reviewers and the editor-in-chief who pushed me to improve the paper, like that and in countless other ways. It was published yesterday.


link to paper; Open access (free) link to paper

By this point, if you haven't heard me talk about this (which has been great fun where they've invited me into their lovely groups to do so), then you're wondering what the paper says. It says a lot about estrogen, ovaries, and periods. (It also says a lot about pelvic differences... so it says a lot about vaginas, uteruses, and clitorides too, which is a whole other ball of wax.) But I'm too pooped from all the activity around the Twitter thread I posted yesterday to write too much more here on the Mermaid's Tale today. So, for now, I'll link to Twitter and to where someone unrolled that thread.



If you hit a paywall at the journal where the paper lives, just download the pre-print for free here: https://digitalcommons.uri.edu/soc_facpubs/37/

I think my beloved former Professor Jeffrey Kurland from those glory days at Penn State would have hated this paper at first! But, if he weren't up in heaven now, we'd be yelling and yelling together, and it would be so much fun yelling together, and he'd at least entertain these ideas, and he'd think up brilliant ways to take the work further. And I so wish he were here with us now, but he will always be.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

More idle thoughts in the Time of Lockdown

This blog site is generally about subjects like genetics, disease, science, and our attempts to understand the complexity of Nature.  But, obviously, those of us not involved in the science to combat the corona virus, have are other things on our minds. For some--perhaps many or even most--it is the very idea of survival, the fear that "the virus could take me down, too!"

Under these conditions, we've not been thinking about science, but about distraction, esthetics, musings on Nature and so on.  In that spirit we offer this verse.  It's about the small mountain adjacent to our new home with, that has a roughly road up to the top, where there are an observation tower and picnic tables.  It's a road we regularly walk for exercize....and for something other than the virus to think about.

Mounting Sugarloaf
In strolling up Mount Sugarloaf
One travels tors of old,
A venerable pile of rock
That in the stone reflects
A past both slow and bold

There were no human witnesses
On hand to note the course
That slowly built the hillsides up,
As layers rose and bent
With geologic force

With shaking seismic happenings
Its greatest shape was gained,
First lifting up and taking form;
But then as years wore by,
Eroding when it rained
                                         
And now can we, when walking there
And witnessing what stays,
Of taller peaks and sharper crags
That humbler have been made,
Imagine ancient days!

Monday, April 27, 2020

I'd take a walk


Taking a walk
I’d take a walk to get away
And for corona be not prey
But if it’s lurking everywhere
Then strolling can’t escape its lair
Each step may draw me close to doom
So, I’ll just hunker in my room!

More poetic thoughts for these awful times.....

These are lock-down times for us all, and for most of us they are essentially unprecedented.  We, or at least I, sit at home, gazing out the window wishing for normalcy.  Would you agree with me, that we are in a time to contemplate the meaning of things, the things that really have meaning?  And, in the absence of other ways that seems even nearly suitable, I try to write my thoughts in verse.  Whether anybody else will think that's appropriate, at least here are examples that seem apt to me.


Gravely, gravely
Gravely, gravely came the news
Of viral pestilential blues
Whence deaths and disabilities
Were nearly universal woes
The toll too great to read the roll
The land beset with sighs and cries

The toll, the toll--we scan the rolls
Of names that once were lively souls
The list grew daily as did sighs
For those who’ll ne’er again give smiles
A roll too long to be all told
Oh, land beset with sighs and cries!

Some day, some day, will names be few
Of deaths that pile, by ones and twos
To add to graves from yesterday:
Then, fertilizing fields of grass
Producing flowers and fragrant dews
Graves once beset by sighs and cries



As the Tombstones Wear Away
(From a walk in an old Massachusetts graveyard)

From tombstones in the graveyard, our history wears away;
Weath’ring very slowly, yet eroding day by day:
Of children falling ere they played, inscribed are many named;
They had brief lives, then passed away, so soon, and ne’er were famed.
Of others passing in decline are memories waning, too,
As tombstoned records of their days are slowly eaten through:
Ah! and since our Earth itself’s a slowly aging ball,
The time will come when no one’s memory exists at all.