Broken Shell is a poem I came across while browsing through books in the Saison Poetry Library, a small haven on the 5th floor of the Royal Festival Hall, London. Here the windowpanes are decorated with verse projected out towards the London sky. This poem by Anne Morrow Lindberg immediately struck me because not only is it connected to science, but specifically to spiral-shelled fossils like ammonites and goniatites.
The first line advises us to stop in our quest for perfection in life. Erosion plays its part even on the most beautiful of nature’s forms, such as a fossil ammonite.
Perhaps Anne Morrow is referring to the shells of the Pearly Nautilus, which are often found washed up on beaches. Nautilus is the only living relative of ammonoids.
by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
from The Unicorn and other poems 1935-1955
Cease searching for the perfect shell, the whole
Inviolate form no tooth of time has cracked;
The alabaster armor still intact
From sand’s erosion and the breaker’s roll.
What can we salvage from ocean’s strife
More lovely than these skeletons that lie
Like scattered flowers open to the sky,
Yet not despoiled by their consent to life?
The pattern on creation morning laid,
By softened lip and hollow, unbetrayed;
The gutted frame endures, a testament,
Even in fragment, to that first intent.
Look at this spiral, stripped to polished nerve
Of growth. Erect as compass in its curve,
It swings forever to the absolute,
Crying out beauty like a silver flute.