Posted by: John Looker | 14 May, 2018

The Descent of Europe

Here is the poem of mine published by Magma in their Europe Issue on 6 April. ‘Descent’ as in evolution and Darwin’s ‘Descent of Man’.



The Descent of Europe
After WB Yeats’ ‘Long-Legged Fly’

Let us listen – as Lydia is doing,
here in northern Greece, here in the shade
where a clear stream runs whispering over the stones.
She is listening to Paul, this weather-beaten traveller
from the shores of Asia. Such upright bearing though.
Clean hands. Piercing eyes. Clearly an educated man
and his thoughts sink as easily into her mind
as rain into long-parched land.

    Like a chick heard tapping within the egg
a new age stirs to break free.

 Or listen to a group, in doublet and lace,
standing in the sun on the Capitoline Hill in Rome.
Well mannered, they greet and chat or mentally rehearse
(again) their studied orations. They are waiting
the arrival of Petrarch. With his ink-discoloured fingers
and his tired eyes, he has laboured to bring
out of the dust the incisive minds of the past.
Their reasoning. Their argument. Their courage.

   Like a chick heard tapping within the egg
a new age stirs to break free.

And listen if you will to the iron wheels
grinding the cobbles of a cathedral city on the Baltic;
cries of the harbour and of the gulls, raucous, overhead.
Copernicus goes walking here, fur collar against the wind.
His mind is full of the silent motions of the planets,
their paths across the sky, their advances and retreats.
Indifferent to the crowds bustling about him, he’s lost
in the computations on which his thesis rests.

    Like a chick heard tapping within the egg
a new age stirs to break free.



© John Looker 2018

Magma’s website is at  

It’s been a very popular issue – such a variety of strong poems, from established poets as well as newcomers like me – well worth getting a copy for your shelves if you can.



  1. Excellent poem, John. Really enjoyed this.


  2. John – this is a terrific poem. The Copernicus stanza especially is highly evocative. Congrats on its publication.


    • Many thanks Bruce. That’s really good of you.


  3. I agree with ‘Magma” this one is worthy of wide distribution and reading as well as study to uncover all it’s nuances.


    • Well, I certainly felt honoured that Magma chose it. Thank you Jane for those kinds words.


  4. Congrats John! I really enjoyed this

    Sent from my iPhone



  5. I too really like this vivid poem, John, and the masterful repetition in italics. Very evocative.


  6. Beautifully put and a timely reminder of how small a fluctuation in history our present European troubles will occupy.


    • Thank you Hilary. There’s some consolation to be found in that I hope.


  7. Beautifully done, John.


  8. What really strikes me about this, John, is the sweep of this rumination. It flows from Greece to Rome to the Baltics through some of the individuals who helped generate enormous change through either discussion or science. One set of thoughts or discoveries spill into the start of a new age whether the ideas come from Paul, Copernicus, or Petrarch, and that age changes what was before.
    The thought I had while reading this is that few people probably understood the significance of Paul, Copernicus, or Petrarch at the moment where
    Like a chick heard tapping within the egg
    a new age stirs to break free.
    The new age, stirring in the egg, took awhile before the differences, if not always wonders, followed.
    I wonder if something like that is stirring in the egg of our world today.
    I also wonder if we can hope for something new.
    Right now it is hard to hold on to optimism, at least in this country.


    • Thanks for sharing these thoughts Tom, and for spending time on the poem. I’m struck by your closing remarks: right now it is hard to hold on to optimism (believe me, that’s equally true in my country with this profoundly misconceived departure from the EU) and yet you wonder if something like a new age is stirring, whether we can hope for something new. Let’s cling on to optimism.


  9. I’ve enjoyed contemplating this alongside the Yeats it responds to, John. I like that the role of listening in your poem merges with that of the silence in Yeats’ (especially so in the third stanza), instead of appearing as a direct opposition. As I read between them I found a certain Venn-like image emerging in my mind, with the great foundational thinkers of your poem producing their thoughts in the overlap space.


    • I really appreciate your close reading of the poem Brad, and especially reading the Yeats poem too. You are spot on about silence and listening – that ‘echo’ was very much in my mind. All the best John


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