Poetry and Science
At first glance it seems to me that poetry and science make strange bedfellows. The latter demands accuracy and clarity, the former is open to the interpretation of the reader, revealing more than the mere words suggest.
This apparent contradiction interests me because my daughter Megan Young was a scientist and also a poet. In some of her poetry, the thoughts behind it seem to float away. As a reader I find myself almost grasping at the words. The poem is intangible – and yet when I have read it both my emotions and my intellect are captured. I think I know what she is saying but I can never be certain. What I have come to realise is that in fact scientists and poets share the virtue of precision whether that be in the conducting of experiments or the careful choosing of just the right word within the poem.
London lecture on poetry and science
In London next week (6th February) literary historian Dr Gregory Tate will be giving a lecture on the subject of poetry and science at the Royal Institution. He will be asking why a surprising number of scientists wrote poetry. He will refer specifically to the pioneering chemist Humphry Davy, and the Victorian physicist and science communicator John Tyndall. Does poetry still have a part to play in scientific research, he will ask.
This is a poem that Megan wrote when she was a first-year veterinary medicine student. It was probably composed on a scrap of paper during a rare quiet moment as she assisted with lambing on a Scottish hillside – part of a vet student’s necessary experience. I have chosen it because I think it reveals a mind that is both scientific and poetic.
Would that I were Alpha to your Omega.
Would that I were distance to your time.
Would that I, alone amid your company,
Be granite to your lime.
Would that I were shadows to your evening.
Would that I, the tortoise to your hare.
Would I were the cat amongst your pigeons.
The fire that breathes your air.
Would that I were lead to hang your plumbline.
Would that I were grist within your mill.
Would, if you were Mars, that I’d be gravity,
The force which binds your will.
Would I were a knife to twist inside you.
Would that I were salt to treat your wounds.
Would that I were sand when you were thirsty.
Folly to your fool.
The evening star, the halo of the heavens.
The dew that hangs, like crystals on the vine.
The bright, the beautiful, all of His creations
As much, are mine.