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This Science Fair, My Prison

By Travis Nichols


August is the month for star-gazing, and what better way to prepare for the Perseids than to spend part of this horrid sun-lit day reading about the great Romantic scientists?  In her new article, “Keats in Space,” Molly Young explains that the work of William and Caroline Herschel, Sir Joseph Banks, Humphry Davy, and Mungo Park all took inspiriation from the same sense of adventure and awe as Shelley, Coleridge, Keats, and the Wordsworths.  Has there ever been–or will there ever be again–such a correspondence between poetry and science?  Read it here and wonder.

Comments (7)

  • On August 13, 2009 at 4:10 am Vivek Narayanan wrote:

    Of course there has! Miroslav Holub, Forrest Gander and Jeremy Prynne just to start off with. Prynne goes dizzying far with the absorption of raw scientific language into poetry; Gander is in some ways more whole and has a beautiful, moving and nuanced essay on science and poetry– Nymph Stick Insect, http://www.cstone.net/~poems/essagan2.htm — which underlines the importance of divergence as well as convergence.

    “Art is not the waging of taste only, nor the exercise of argument, but like love the experience of imminent revelation.”

    I think one probably ought to chew through that before indulging in simple nostalgia for an age when cranial measurement was also considered part of science. 🙂

  • On August 13, 2009 at 7:55 am Vivek Narayanan wrote:

    In fact, come to think of it, what am I saying– Science has been the principal romance of poetry throughout the 20th century and after! Countless poets. There’s been a bias towards the field sciences, such as biology, ecology, etc.– which is to say science at its roughest, most contingent, most thickly descriptive, most observational– as opposed to the experimental and theoretical sciences– although mathematics has also had its whimsical takers, as well as astronomy– and there has been the problem of scientific language, which has had to be tackled in various ways.

    The romantics were just winding up a correspondence that had been going on for at least two centuries before them; though I wonder if they were also responsible for a founding myth that cleaved poetry and science apart…?

  • On August 13, 2009 at 8:39 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    A Flower

    Such a simple thing,
    just a flower;
    petals and pistil and stamen,
    a scent and a color,
    a blossom and some seeds.
    Just a stem and some leaves,
    growing, absorbing, reflecting
    the light, some roots taking
    water from soil for the bloom.
    Just xylem and phloem, some
    membranes and tissue and cells,
    a nucleus, some organelles,
    green chloroplasts transforming
    the sun into starches and sugars,
    just chlorophyll, molecules
    of elements and atoms built
    of protons and electrons,
    muons and quarks, made of waves
    and strings and fields of time
    and space and energy and chance.
    It’s really quite simple.
    Just a flower.

    Copyright 2008 – HARDWOOD-77 Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

  • On August 13, 2009 at 1:56 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Nothing cries out for a definition of terms as when the unscientific attempt to discuss art and science together.

    Science finds understanding in what has often been merely seen; art lets us see what has often been merely understood.

    Is the poet who studies the science of rhyme, scientific? Or is the poet who uses ‘scientific’ subjects?

    There is an art to attacking a fortress; there is an art to finding a solution to a practical problem, but is this also considered a science? Surely it is. Here then, science and art are exactly the same.

    Unless we define our terms, we are saying exactly nothing.

    Compared to Plato, Bacon and Poe, Wordsworth was a mystic.

    I don’t know ANY 20th century poets who were actually scientific. Manifesto-ism is NOT science.

  • On August 13, 2009 at 8:45 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Scientific News of Interest to Poets

    Study: Monkeys share human preference for imitation

    (CNN) — A new study shows capuchin monkeys prefer humans whose behavior mimics theirs, a trait they share with humans, scientists say.

    Research conducted by the National Institutes of Health in cooperation with two Italian institutions examined how monkeys reacted to two types of humans — ones who copied their actions and ones who didn’t.

    “If one person imitates what a monkey does, and the other person does not imitate, the monkey prefers to spend more time in front of the person that imitated them,” said Dr. Annika Paukner at the National Institutes of Health offices in Poolesville, Maryland.

    Research has shown for some time that humans prefer to interact with others who act like them, and people have a subconscious tendency to imitate others. Paukner told CNN the new study shows it is more than just a human trait.
    “It’s something that’s quite old and something very, very basic. It’s not just for us sophisticated humans,” she said.

    In the study, a capuchin monkey was given a wiffle ball and was allowed to interact with a pair of researchers — one who, using another ball, attempted to mimic the action of the monkey, and one who deliberately acted in a different way.

    Monkeys in the study consistently spent more time interacting with the imitators. They also more readily accepted food and trinkets from the mimicking humans, even when the non-imitators offered the same rewards.
    According to the report, the new findings indicate an evolutionary link to the way humans form friendships and create social connections.


  • On August 14, 2009 at 10:56 am albertine wrote:

    Yes, but I think the interesting thing here is not that poets have been inspired by science, but rather that there was an age when scientists paid attention to poets.

  • On August 15, 2009 at 7:35 am thomas brady wrote:


    Thou art an infinite template for my imitation!

    I will delight in the same things you delight in.

    I throw you a wiffle ball.



Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 by Travis Nichols.