Volume 73, Issue 2, Spring 2021
“New Knowledge of Lost Worlds”?
Edward Hitchcock’s “Sandstone Bird” and the Poetic Exploration of Science and Faith
In contemporary academic circles, the fields of science, theology, and literature may be compartmentalized with relatively little interaction. However, such distinctions were less rigid in the early nineteenth century. One of the figures whose writings stretched across these disciplinary boundaries was Edward Hitchcock, a world-renowned geologist and president of Amherst College who also had extensive theological training. Now best-known among paleontologists for his discovery of fossil footprints in the Connecticut River Valley, Hitchcock made use of his considerable talents in an 1836 poem entitled “The Sandstone Bird.” This poem—often known to historians of science but little remarked among students of American literature—effectively uses formal verse to draw out theological dimensions to the prehistoric world conjured up by Hitchcock’s own paleontological discoveries.