ON MIGRATION by Ruth Padel


Dangerous Journeys and the Living World
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A poetic exploration of every aspect of migration, from the evolution of life to the migrations of birds and the patterns of human emigration.

Poet and conservationist Padel (Darwin: A Life in Poems, 2009, etc.), the great, great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, connects the relationship of the yearly migrations of birds and butterflies to seasonal human labor and such esoteric subjects as the transmigration of souls. She sets the stage with a poem, “Ripples on New Grass”: "I want to see autumn swarms of monarch butterflies…calling all migrants home.” She follows with a discussion of the distinction between migratory labor and a permanent change of locale. While much of her poetry depends on natural images, her subject matter is wide-ranging—e.g., the contrast between seasonal emigration and forced moves of populations due to “invasion and colonization.” In an even greater imaginative leap, Padel compares how human populations are changed by migration to new environments with the original spread of vegetation on the planet, which created our atmosphere. With biting wit, she attacks the shibboleths of nativism by pointing out that the British Royal Oak, an “emblem of England, [is] an immigrant from Spain.” Her poems hark back to Noah and the Great Flood and the Trojan War, and she discusses how, in ancient Greece and in the Bible, “[h]elping strangers was an obligation”; she contrasts this to “hundreds of diasporas all over the world.” Padel claims that “as birds are the blueprint for migration so are the Jews for diaspora and exile” and then shifts to the biblical account of Joshua leading the Jews to the Promised Land. Padel ends by affirming the role of migration in shaping modern Britain and America.

A lyrically effective mix of prose and poetry.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61902-195-2
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Counterpoint
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2013


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