For years my library had an ongoing book sale, and one day I picked up a unique book.
…a startling and exciting collection of poems; startling to those who have assumed that mathematics and science had little in common with poetry, exciting to those lovers of poetry to whom the beauties of mathematics and science have never been manifested.Louise Seaman Bechtel, in the New York Herald Tribune
I bought Imagination’s Other Place: Poems of Science and Mathematics for a dollar, but although I’d been intrigued by it, it languished untouched on my shelf for years. When I finally sat down with it, it was hours before I came back to the real world.
Once again, as I described in my previous post, I felt that fascination and joy at the meeting of the creative and the scientific.
Isn’t it extraordinary: Ronald Ross wrote a poem to celebrate his discovery of the germ that caused malaria:
Here are the first 2 stanzas of “The Cloud” by Percy Bysshe Shelley:
I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
The sweet buds every one,
When rocked to rest on their mother’s breast,
As she dances about the sun.
I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
And whiten the green plains under,
And then again I dissolve it in rain,
And laugh as I pass in thunder.
I sift the snow on the mountains below,
And their great pines groan aghast;
And all the night ’tis my pillow white,
While I sleep in the arms of the blast.
Sublime on the towers of my skiey bowers,
Lightning my pilot sits;
In a cavern under is fettered the thunder,
It struggles and howls at fits;
Over earth and ocean, with gentle motion,
This pilot is guiding me,
Lured by the love of the genii that move
In the depths of the purple sea;
Over the rills, and the crags, and the hills,
Over the lakes and the plains,
Wherever he dream, under mountain or stream,
The Spirit he loves remains;
And I all the while bask in Heaven’s blue smile,
Whilst he is dissolving in rains.
Another one of my favorites…
“To a Snowflake” by Francis Thompson
What heart could have thought you?—
Past our devisal
(O filigree petal!)
Fashioned so purely,
From what Paradisal
Too costly for cost?
Who hammered you, wrought you,
From argentine vapor?—
“God was my shaper.
He hammered, He wrought me,
From curled silver vapor,
To lust of His mind—
Thou could’st not have thought me!
So purely, so palely,
Insculped and embossed,
With His hammer of wind,
And His graver of frost.
You can read Imagination’s Other Place on Archive.org for free, and if you want even more opportunities to delve into the subject, check out these places:
Helen Plotz, the compiler of Imagination’s Other Place, was ahead of her time. Today the connections between the creative arts and math and science are everywhere.
Here are some of the best videos and articles and poetry I’ve recently found:
An article in Smithsonian Magazine, How Poetry and Math Intersect
Math and Science poems for children, on the blog, Live Your Poem, by the poet Irene Latham
Videos recorded at The Universe in Verse, an evening of poetry celebrating science
Mathematics in Poetry, an online article containing numerous poems, in the Journal of Online Mathematics and its Applications.
A video of Elizabeth Gilbert reading “Ursa Major” by James Kirkup
The rest of “The Cloud” by Percy Bysshe Shelley