Astonishing Islands
2016 (09:00)

Solo guitar with voice
Commissioned by St John’s Smith Square
Written for Laura Snowden

Astonishing Islands

take great pains collecting
obtain several kinds
in more detail, describe

Mimus parvulus
Mimus trifasciatus
Mimus melanotis

ascertain the measurements
compare numerous specimens

curious history
deserves attention
productions creations
of distinct inhabitants

mystery of mysteries

astonishing islands
in open ocean
five hundred six hundred miles
little satellite archipelago


review the facts here given
give a forcible proof
establish this most remarkable fact

astonishing islands

– cut-up and reassembled from
Chapter XVII Galapagos Archipelago
The Voyage of the Beagle
Charles Darwin, 1839

Program note
It would have been quite a thrill to be peering over Charles Darwin’s shoulder as he sifted through his notes to begin assembling The Voyage of the Beagle. The book is a collection of journal entries and observations about his trip aboard that vessel as it made a survey expedition around the globe, including, very importantly, a stop on the Galápagos Islands. The islands’ animals intrigued Darwin; his study of the Galápagos finches and their relative beak size is rightly famous, since it contributed to the forming of his theory about the origin of species through natural selection. This epiphany would change the course of science, and in doing so, forever alter our perceptions of life on earth. In truth, it was Darwin’s examination of the islands’ mockingbirds of the genus Mimus that actually proved the most revelatory, convincing him of his theory’s merit. Comparing the subtle differences in morphology between Mimus from different islands, Darwin deduced that the species must be closely related; it was then that his ideas about natural selection started taking shape. In writing this piece, liberally editing and recombining text quoted from The Voyage, I attempt to peer over Darwin’s shoulder at that extraordinary moment.
– WG, 2016

Astonishing Islands . Catalogue 132 . Copyright © Wally Gunn . September 2016