The poetry of science | Laboratory News
It builds up to a magnificent apocalyptic vision, in which the divisions of the world are overcome and human life is redeemed, culminating in the words:. Once again, at the moment of apocalypse, science has a role to play in the redemption of the world, but now we recognize the participants:. One cannot say for certain what Blake is getting at in this enigmatic and to some extent bizarre passage. Thus in the culminating moment of Jerusalem and in a sense the culminating moment of all his poetry , Blake seems to call for a reconciliation of science and poetry, as the chief representatives of both camps are brought together to make the apocalypse possible.
Whatever one ultimately makes of these passages, they strongly suggest that the negative view of science expressed frequently in Blake does not tell the whole story. He would hardly invite scientists to his apocalyptic party at the end of the universe if he had nothing but contempt for them. He was capable of thinking of science as an integral part of human life, and indeed in his vision of the apocalypse, he insists on integrating science — and some very famous scientists — into his account of the restoration of human wholeness.
To be sure, he often laments the impact of modern science and technology on the realm of nature, and, like Blake, he also regards the domination of the scientific worldview as a threat to the imagination. It is less well-known, however, that at times Wordsworth speculated that science might open up imaginative possibilities for poetry. He does so in a generally neglected passage in his most famous piece of prose, his preface to the edition of the volume of poetry he published with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads :. If the labours of men of Science should ever create any material revolution If the time should ever come when what is now called Science, thus familiarized to men, shall be ready to put on, as it were, a form of flesh and blood, the Poet will lend his divine spirit to aid the transfiguration.
He suggests that, if scientists advance our understanding of the human condition, poets will be prepared to follow their lead and will be able to produce a new kind of poetry out of the new science. Motion and Means, on land and sea at war With old poetic feeling, not for this, Shall ye, by Poets even, be judged amiss! We begin to see here the chief point of contact between Romantic poetry and modern science — both are creative forces and put a premium on bringing new things into the world.
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Insofar as Romantics like Wordsworth sensed a creative power in science, they felt that they could embrace it. They too, like modern scientists, hoped to alter the world for the better. Sublime was one of the keywords of the Romantics and they often used it to designate the peak of their aspirations. Once again, it shows that they did not simplistically reject science, but tried to incorporate what was new and powerful in it into their understanding of the world, and perhaps even to appropriate some of that power for their poetry. Of all the Romantics, Lord Byron and Percy Shelley were the ones most interested in science and most aware of new scientific developments in their age.
Shelley and Byron took a special interest in the emerging fields of geology and paleontology, and in particular kept up with the latest theories about the prehistoric creatures that came to be known as dinosaurs. This kind of scientific development fed the religious skepticism of Shelley and Byron, and above all their tendency to question the Biblical account of creation. The evidence thus suggests that the Romantic poets, although they certainly had their doubts about certain aspects of modern science, did not condemn it out of simple ignorance or jealousy, but had instead entered into a genuine dialogue with the science of their day.
If Shelley and Byron are any indication, the Romantics were not simply willing, but quite eager to listen to what contemporary scientists had to say. One can even detect signs of the beginnings of science fiction in the poetry of Shelley and Byron. Byron seems to anticipate the concept of entropy and the heat-death of the universe, and rivals Wells in his unnerving vision of the extinction of the sun.
In the cosmic vistas of Prometheus Unbound , Shelley anticipates space travel. He in fact directly influenced Wells, who based his science fiction novel In the Days of the Comet loosely upon the apocalyptic vision of Prometheus Unbound. The fact that science fiction grows out of Romantic literature is perhaps our best evidence that the Romantics were not ignorant of science; rather they were among the first to recognize its imaginative potential.
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Even our brief survey of the Romantic view of science suggests that, although scientists of course remain free to reject the advice of Romantic poets, they cannot do so on the grounds that the Romantics knew nothing about science. Mary was of course the wife of Percy Shelley, and in her account of the genesis of Frankenstein , she explains how the novel had its origins in learned conversations she listened to between her husband and Lord Byron:.
During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated. They talked of the experiment of Dr.
pretceriluta.tk Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth. Darwin referred to in this passage is not Charles, but his grandfather Erasmus. Very much rooted in the science of its day, Frankenstein embodies a profound awareness of the larger human context of scientific endeavor.
This may be difficult for us to believe today, accustomed as we have become to the cheap thrills offered by all the horror movies based on the Frankenstein motif. But even these movies have something to say about the dangers of unbridled scientific research, and it is no accident that the image of Frankenstein has entered the popular imagination as our chief symbol of science gone awry.
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A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. Hitherto, every father has had to share the glory of human creation with a mother, whose role in bringing the child into existence was at least as great, if not greater. One can see Shelley thinking as a woman in this passage, and calling into question the masculine pride of the scientific creator. Frankenstein acts out a kind of male fantasy — to skip over any natural means of reproduction, to be solely responsible for the creation of his offspring, and thus to be able to claim its total gratitude.
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In her deepest insight into scientific creativity, Shelley sees its link to a will to power, and a desire to go beyond all conventional and natural limits on human aspiration. In fact, all the misery the creature is forced to endure can be traced to its inability to fit in to society, and being eight feet tall is its primary problem in being accepted as normal by the human beings it encounters.
Shelley identifies the purely technical nature of scientific thinking as its chief defect. For Frankenstein creation is simply a matter of technique. He has the parts and his only concern is how to assemble them quickly into a whole. He does not think about the nature of the whole he is creating — how the way it is being brought into being will affect the character of that whole.
Mary Shelley was of course an amateur when it comes to science, but in many ways her understanding of the larger context of science was well in advance of the thinking of the greatest scientists of her day. Notice that she is not skeptical about the power of science; she is not the sort of know-nothing who doubts the claims of scientists to be able to change the world.
On the contrary, at the very beginning of what was to become the science of biochemistry, Shelley foresaw how potent a tool it would be in the hands of scientists. When scientists were priding themselves on merely getting the legs of a dead frog to jump, Shelley could already imagine the creation of a live human being through science. Indeed, we can now say in retrospect that Frankenstein is one of the most prophetic books ever written, and it is difficult to think about the disturbing questions raised by contemporary possibilities in biotechnology without invoking the warnings of Mary Shelley.
The basic lesson Frankenstein can teach us is this: science can tell us how to do something, but it cannot tell us whether we should do it. To fill in our sense of that context and those consequences, literature can come to the aid of science.
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No matter how imaginative science itself can be — and recall that Shelley does see Frankenstein as fired up by his imagination — literature is better at imagining the human things. As we have seen, Shelley can do what Frankenstein fails to do — to imagine what it would feel like to be a being created by science. And Shelley also usefully reminds us that science itself is a human activity, and that scientists may sometimes be impelled by human, all-too-human motives.
You — A centripetal force inveigling — Explain entropic delusions and test assumptions of reality. Poems used with permission of the author or publisher, were submitted as part of our community poetry prompts, or are in the public domain.
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I agree with Monica, it is wonderful to see science and poetry sharing the same space and time. They are both pathways to seeing. I also like poetry and have a blog about science and poetry, or better poetry and working in the lab as a scientist. Here are a couple examples that poetry can cross subject cross borders in somehow: Poems on science and poems on fairy […]. Your email address will not be published. Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.
To help you test the hypothesis, here are 10 great science poems. Sonnet—To Science Science!
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