Julian Huxley was an avid science populariser, researched into the metamorphosis of axolotls, and wrote poetry. I'm pretty sure that these interests were combined in a poem I once came across, possibly in his book Essays of a Biologist. The verse that I remember best (you can see why) went something like this:

Growing up, without, this curious gland,
He cannot hope, to salamand,
His life's ambition, doomed to throttle,
He must remain, an axolotl.

Does anybody recognise it? I've tried searching Google, and also the databases of several poetry societies. None of the latter accept Julian Huxley as a poet, and I can't find the text through them or through Google. I'm surprised that very little of Huxley's writing is online.

Note added September 9th

I've remembered that (I think) Huxley wrote that either the final two lines I quoted, or the entire verse, weren't his but were given him by a friend. I recall that when I first read that, it confirmed my thought that they had a different feel to the rest of the poem. Less serious, and in my opinion, more enjoyable. Maybe I felt the rest rather portentous.

  • Anne Morgan's Axolotl Rap involves rhyming axolotl with throttle and salamander with verandah. (Who knew there are so many poems about axolotls!)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Sep 8, 2020 at 9:11
  • Thanks. That's definitely not the same poem, and doesn't use throttle in the same way. Fun, though. Sep 8, 2020 at 9:13

1 Answer 1


This is from "At the Water Zoo" by "Evoe" (E. V. Knox), published in Punch, 9th April 1924:

Because of his peculiar gland,
He may not hope to salamand;
His life's ambition forced to throttle,
He still remains an axolotl.*

In the original publication in Punch there was a footnote to this line:

* This account of the emotions of the axolotl was kindly supplied by Professor Julian Huxley.

This explains how the poem came to be mistakenly attributed to Huxley.

  • Thanks very much, Quassnoi, and for linking to a scan of the original poem. I certainly didn't encounter it in Punch, so that leaves the question of whether I did see it in Huxley's book, and if so, whether he just reprinted "At the Water Zoo", or incorporated that verse into a poem of his own. Incidentally, from the scan, the first line should have "his" and not "its", and the fourth "still remains", not "must remain". But it's great to see that link. Sep 13, 2020 at 4:22
  • @PhilvanKleur: See the updated answer. Sep 30, 2020 at 13:58
  • Thanks. So I got it the wrong way round. It wasn't that Huxley used lines from Knox; Knox used lines from Huxley. Sep 30, 2020 at 14:54
  • 1
    Huxley was famous in the early 1920s for an experiment in which he fed thyroid hormone to axolotls, causing them to metamorphose. I think the footnote alludes to this experiment and probably doesn't mean that Huxley actually wrote the lines of verse. Sep 30, 2020 at 16:43

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