What does May Kendall’s “The Lay of the Trilobite” suggest about evolution?

In “The Lay of the Trilobite” by May Kendall, the poet satirizes evolution, especially its manifestation in social Darwinism that has caused many conflicts and much agony. The trilobite's words point to the arrogance of human beings and the misdirection of the social aspects of evolution.

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May Kendall satirizes evolution in her poem “The Lay of the Trilobite,” and she is especially critical of people who apply Darwin's ideas to society in the form of social Darwinism. This ideology promotes the “survival of the fittest” to justify philosophical confusion, oppression of the less fortunate, and even war.

In the poem, the speaker stands on a mountain and looks down upon the fossilized remains of a trilobite. The speaker's position in itself suggests the idea that evolution leads to superiority. The speaker reflects on how marvelous and right it is to be human and how much better humans are than the lowly trilobite.

Then, however, the trilobite speaks and knocks the speaker off the proverbial heights. The trilobite comments, rather sarcastically, that humans are supposed to be the “shining lights / Of wisdom and perfection,” yet they confuse each other, conquer each other's lands, wage war as if they “were possessed,” and are convinced that whoever makes the most noise wins. The creature remarks, “And oh, a pretty fix you're in!” The trilobite, in contrast, lived a peaceful, gentle life without care. There was no grumbling or stealing, just living.

The speaker, out of pride, does not respond to the trilobite, but suddenly the downside of evolution becomes clear. Perhaps if human beings' brains were not quite so good or perhaps if they were not quite so evolved, they might live better, more peaceful, happier lives. Again, the poet here is referring to the social Darwinism that, in her view, stands behind so many of society's troubles and agonies. Perhaps, she suggests, “evolution,” at least in its social manifestation, has gone too far in the wrong direction.

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