Contemporary Poetry and Contemporary Science

Contemporary Poetry and Contemporary Science

Contemporary Poetry and Contemporary Science

Contemporary Poetry and Contemporary Science

Excerpt

At the start of the 1920s Einstein's visit to England excited not only writers but also the general, newspaper-reading public. 'Einstein the Great', T. S. Eliot called him, with an ironic smirk, surveying the press coverage for a 'London Letter' contributed to the American magazine The Dial in July 1921. Rose Macaulay, writing 'probably the first significant novel in the English language to make direct use of Einstein's theories', presents in her media story Potterism (1920) the newspaper headline 'Light Caught Bending'. In Scotland, later in the same decade, Hugh MacDiarmid ended one of his greatest lyric poems, 'Empty Vessel', by writing of a woman's grief for her dead child, 'The licht that bends ower a' thing | Is less ta'en up wi't.' So it was that Einstein caught the imagination of American, English, and Scottish writers.

A scientist who considered imagination more important than knowledge, Einstein was likely to appeal to poets. Readers now take it for granted that those Modernist impulses which dominated much of early twentieth-century literature from Joyce to Mayakovsky and from Paul Valéry to T. S. Eliot were engaged with the epoch's scientific revolutions. Hugely influential work by Gillian Beer has demonstrated the pervasiveness of scientific thinking in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century English literature. More narrowly focused studies, such as Ian F. A. Bell's work on Ezra Pound, show just how interested in scientific thought was an individual poet and animateur, while research into Einstein and Modernism suggests how ideas such as relativity permeate the writing of the period. With its focus on a poetics of the particle and a poetics of the wave, Daniel Albright's Quantum Poetics (1997) relates scientific ideas and metaphors to the poetry of the first half of the twentieth century, and especially to the work of Yeats, Pound, and Eliot. A number of studies, like Albright's, show how science provided metaphors for poetry and its understanding.

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