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Issue 13 • July 2014
Science Poetry
edited by Geoffrey A. Landis

Introduction to Issue 13

For this issue of Eye to the Telescope, I wanted to showcase poetry about science.

Poetry and science have a long history together. I could argue, in fact, that in a quest to understand the world and put nature into human language, science is poetry, and great science is great poetry, although often written in a language of mathematics which is concise and beautiful, but (as some poetry is) not always easily understandable. And, indeed, poets have often also been scientists, and scientists have been poets. Galileo wrote poetry (some of it bawdy). So did James Clerk Maxwell, the man who first wrote down the laws of electricity and magnetism. Erasmus Darwin, who perhaps should share credit for the theory of evolution by natural selection with his more famous grandson, was, in his day, as famous for his verse as for his research (one of his shorter poems is here), while German poet Goethe was, in his day, as famous for his science as for his writing.

William Wordsworth; writing in 1800, said: “The remotest discoveries of the Chemist, the Botanist, or Mineralogist, will be as proper objects of the Poet’s art as any upon which it can be employed, if the time should ever come when these things shall be familiar to us, and the relations under which they are contemplated by the followers of these respective sciences shall be manifestly and palpably material to us as enjoying and suffering beings.”

Poetry can be about science, about discovery, or about scientists; it can use the language of science as a source of depth and contrast, or it can use science as a metaphor to talk about ordinary or extraordinary experience, or it can use ordinary or extraordinary experience as a way to explicate science.

Here are a selection of poems about science. I hope you like them.

—Geoffrey A. Landis