EARTH WORMS

Here we are, back in lockdown again. In the last lockdown I escaped by joining Alfred Russel Wallace in the jungles of Malaysia in the blog “IN A FEVER”, this blog only goes as far as Stonehenge, but features one of the most important animals on earth, the earthworm, and the man whose best-selling book “The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms with Observation on their Habits”, first published in 1881, studied the worm in magnificent detail.

Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882) famously sailed around the world on HMS Beagle, a voyage which sparked off his work on evolution, but for most of the rest of his life he was becalmed in the village of Down in Kent. His health was poor and he lived very quietly with his wife Emma and their children and studied a wide variety of animals and plants, beginning with a seven-year study of barnacles.  

His book on worms was his last book. He was a frail old man but he looked at worms with the curiosity of a child. To find out if worms could hear he played the tin whistle to them, his son played the bassoon and Emma the piano. 

He studied the effect of the worms’ burrowing and casting on soil fertility and on the level of the soil. He noted how stones laid on the surface of the ground gradually sank as the worm casts built up the soil around them. He investigated worm activity at Roman villas whose floors and walls had sunk under the ground, and visited Stonehenge to measure the build-up of soil around fallen monoliths. 

In the conclusion of his book he writes that: “Worms have played a more important part in the history of the world than most persons would at first suppose. In almost all humid countries they are extraordinarily numerous, and for their size possess great muscular power.”

A worm cast under my clothes line

There’s more about worms at https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/earthworms and https://www.earthwormsoc.org.uk .

Darwin had given up going to Church years before he died, though he was not militantly anti-church unlike one of his followers, the scientist Thomas Huxley, who relished using Darwin’s evolutionary ideas to challenge the power of the church. When Darwin died though, Huxley changed his tune and was one of those who pressed for Darwin to be buried inside Westminster Abbey for the prestige it would confer. Emma didn’t go to the service at the Abbey, preferring instead to walk in the garden where her husband had studied worms. I’m with Emma on this. Here are the views of the Worm God.

The Worm God Speaks
I am the Worm without End
my infinite circles surround
an endless intestine.
I came to power in the age
when dinosaurs stomped 
over earth and furry things 
scuttled around their feet.
Just lately a bifurcated
animal decided worms 
are lowlife and humans 
were made to rule earth,
but one of their old men
delved into the world 
of worms and marvelled
at the stupendous power
of their intestines 
that process detritus
and excrete fertility
in massive quantities
over billions of years.
He explained that worms 
cultivated the planet 
long before Adam’s sons
dreamt of ploughing it.
When old Darwin stood
in Stonehenge’s circles
he knew the dynamic guts
and muscular circles 
of legions of worms  
could entomb monuments 
with towers of wonder-shit.
Darwin's body is confined 
in Westminster Abbey's  
worm free environment,
prepared for a wormless 
and soil free heaven, 
but give us time and worms
will reclaim his detritus. 
That is my hope at least
but sometimes I worry
that the barnacles he loved 
for seven years of his youth
will get to him before us.
The earth is fickle but 
one thing’s certain; 
over many epochs
endless multitudes 
of gutsy worms 
created Gaia’s 
glorious skin. 
 

Anne Bryan

One thought on “EARTH WORMS”

  1. Wonderful words again Anne. Thank you. So good to visit Charles again and be reminded of the exceptional lives of worms in the order of life. Perfect photo of the worm cast in your lovely green lawn.
    Love Shan

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