Science in Modern Poetry: New Directions

Science in Modern Poetry: New Directions

Science in Modern Poetry: New Directions

Science in Modern Poetry: New Directions

Excerpt

At the beginning of the twentieth century the English poet Robert Bridges declared:

History and science our playthings are: what an untold
Wealth of inexhaustive treasure is stored up for amusement!
(ll. 76–77)

Taking geology as his first example, he continued:

Shall not the celestial earth-ball
Equally entertain a mature enquiry, reward our
Examination of its contexture, conglomerated
Of layer’d debris, the erosion of infinite ages?
Tho’ I lack the wizard Darwin’s scientific insight
On the barren sea-beaches of East Patagonia gazing,
I must wond’ring attend, nay learn myself to decipher
Time’s rich hieroglyph, with vast elemental pencil
Scor’d upon Earth’s rocky crust […]
(ll. 82–90)

Bridges’s poem, entitled Now in Wintry Delights (1903), seems fustily antique, yet it anticipates surprisingly precisely poetry’s wider engagement with science in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. On the one hand, Bridges defers to science. He promises to ‘attend’ to its teaching, to ‘learn’ its methods, in order to advance his own understanding. Educated in classics at Oxford in the 1860s, Bridges had retrained in medicine . . .

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