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In May 2007, a major fire on the tea clipper Cutty Sark, in Greenwich, destroyed its decks. But its iron frame remained, and much of its equipment was elsewhere, being repaired or renewed. It raised the old problem of the preservation of identity through time. (To see this line of thought carried to the extreme, see Reflections.)


The Cutty Sark’s gone up in flames –
(Except the bits they’d stored).
So, when its burnt bits are replaced,
Is Cutty Sark restored?

It’s like the tale of Granddad’s axe:
If he renewed its blade
And Dad replaced the handle, has
A new axe then been made?

How much of something can be changed
Before it isn’t it?
A molecule? An atom? Or
A rather bigger bit?

I need to know, because my cells
Replace themselves, they say.
So am I still the chap I was,
Or different every day?

[Image: Daily Mail (Hulton Archive)]
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