Winter 1965 • Vol. XXVII No. 1 Poetry |

The Conjugation of the Paramecium

This has nothing to do with propagating The species is continued as so many are (among the smaller creatures) by fission (and this species is very small next in order to the amoeba, the beginning one) The paramecium achieves, then, immortality by dividing But when the paramecium desires renewal strength  another joy this is what the paramecium does: The paramecium lies down beside another paramecium Slowly  inexplicably the exchange takes place in which some bits of the nucleus of each are exchanged for some bits of the nucleus of the other This is called the conjugation of the paramecium.

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Growing out of Muriel Rukeyser’s experience during the Spanish Civil War, the elegy evokes both hope and skepticism about dreaming in a time of defeat. The title alludes to nineteenth-century customs practiced by starving Native Americans, who found hope in ecstatic dancing, anticipating reunions with their dead—customs which, as Rukeyser noted, “have connections with expression in the overrun countries of our own time.” “The Dream-singing Elegy” was later republished as the seventh in a cycle of ten poems (Elegies, 1949). A quotation from it appears in Doctor Atomic, John Adams’ 2005 opera about the Manhattan Project, sung by the skeptical Kitty Oppenheimer.

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