May Kendall first uses irony in "The Lay of the Trilobite" by satirizing the self-importance of the narrator, who is proud to think of himself as the apex of countless years of evolution. His mind is so profound and brilliant that only a mountaintop can provide an appropriate setting for his lofty thoughts. When he notices the trilobite, he thinks:
How wonderful it seemed and right,
The providential plan,
That he should be a Trilobite,
And I should be a Man!
This is a satire of various hymns in the eighteenth and nineteenth century which claimed a special place in creation for the Christians who sang them. One of the best-known examples is by Isaac Watts:
Lord, I ascribe it to thy grace,
And not to chance as others do,
That I was born of Christian race,
And not a heathen, or a Jew.
The irony in the poem, therefore, is not confined to the subject of evolution. Indeed, it is not primarily about evolution, but about scientism, the ideological misuse of science. This is clear when Kendall's trilobite describes the practise of colonialism, which was frequently justified with racist theories based on interpretations of Darwin:
The native of an alien land
You call a man and brother,
And greet with hymn-book in one hand
And pistol in the other!
At the end of the poem, the speaker learns the wrong lesson from the trilobite. Instead of reflecting how he and others have misused their intellects, he reflects that it would be far better to enjoy the "liberty and ease" of the unthinking trilobite. This irony is particularly cutting within the context of the poem, since it is the "simple" trilobite which has attempted to show him what was wrong with his view of the world, and the sophisticated human being whose gigantic intellect has altogether missed the point.