WATCHERS OF THE MOON:
Poetry and Mathematical Physics in the Long Nineteenth Century
Author Index: M-N-O
TECHNICAL NOTE: The great majority of the links below are to
scanned antique books at the Internet Archive, most of them
anthologies. Poems frequently run for several pages; when coming
to the apparent end of a poem, turn the page to make sure!
Written on witnessing Wilbur Wright's flight from Governor's Island to Grant's Tomb and
back, 1909 October 4.
The Arc Light
The untitled poem on the following page ("She stood before a
florist's window pane ... ") may be part of the same work.
The Automobile: A First Ride, 1904
Phonograph, moving-picture camera, stock-ticker and so on are
valuable only if they point to some transcendent realm, or at least
not to evil. Fortunately, Edison has good intentions.
God's sub-creator! The engineer-as-poet theme is
The Heart in the Jar: In 1912, the Nobel prize for medicine was
awarded to Alexis Carrel,
whose work on keeping blood-vessels and
organs alive outside the body (some of it conducted, amazingly
enough, in collaboration with the aviator Charles Lindbergh) would eventually
lead to heart-transplantation technology.
A Southern US poet (and judge) who admired the Romantics,
especially Shelley, but preached the characteristic late-Victorian
creed of Manly Self-Reliance. His poetry, unpopular with his contemporaries
and forgotten since his death, is better than one might expect, and his
political views, although hard to pin down, seem surprisingly radical.
Typical of middle-class American male thought ca. 1900: brave, bluff, well-meaning, but just
a bit shallow; one imagines the speaker addressing his Masonic Lodge.
is a force for liberation of the enslaved.
Hernando De Soto, Book VI,
Hernando De Soto is an epic poem, 592 pages long, about the
conquistador's exploits on both American continents. One of the major
characters, Codro, is an omniscient wizard-scientist. In Books VI and
XXII, Codro foretells the coming of the industrialised US; in
Book XXVI he guides the dying hero through an evolutionist prehistory.
(The next book, unexpectedly, features Norse gods battling Fenris Wolf
and the Midgard Serpent!)
The Tomb of Galileo,
"The second Joshua, at whose command // The heavens ceased turning and the
sun stood still."
The Union of the Seas.
"On the Completion of the Panama Canal".
Illustrates the close connexion between evolution and pantheism in
Nineteenth Century thought.
God directs evolution.
The Mighty Hundred Years
An hymn to the Nineteenth Century.
Today he is remembered as the author of "Sea-Fever",
of "Cargoes" (below), and of old-fashioned, unfashionable nautical poetry,
some of it in unreadable dialect. However, much of his verse is not like
that at all, but addresses the despair of post-religious, scientific Victorian
man seeking some new source of spiritual meaning. His contemporaries
seem to have been greatly impressed.
A very complex and interesting poem; I don't know how to summarise it.
Modern technology is unromantic.
a YouTube performer
Musical setting by Martin Shaw performed by R. Malcolm.
If all be governed by the moving stars
On the surface an astrology poem, but actually about the late Nineteenth Century
world-view. (Includes the poems "In emptiest furthest heaven" and
"Perhaps in chasms".)
Fifteen-part poem seeking the meaning of life in the light of biological and
So in the empty sky the stars appear
(Continued on next page.) A typical Later Victorian cosmic meditation.
There are two forms of life
Four poems in which the speaker tries to come to terms with evolution.
What am I, Life?
"A thing of watery salt held in cohesion by unresting cells."
Masters, Edgar Lee:
Very complex, difficult poems.
Many of them represent the inhabitants of
Masters's fictional Spoon River, muttering in their graves.
A Romantic astronomer.
Dr. Burke: From the murder-novel in verse Domesday Book.
Dr. Scudder's Clinical Lecture: A physician's technical talk wanders into
stranger and stranger territory as he remembers one of his patients.
Franklin Jones: Would-be (or rather, would-have-been) inventor of a flying machine.
Mr. and Mrs. Sibley: Two connected poems very typical of the Spoon River Anthology;
the second uses Masters' favourite scientific metaphors, gravitation and stratigraphy.
Neanderthal: An attempt to find meaning in human evolution.
Nel Mezzo del Camin:
"You call this a world!"
Out of the Dust (Beelzebub's Song):
Pessimistic take on evolution.
Over the Soundless Depths (The Sun's Song): The end of the Spoon River Anthology.
Perry Zoll: A scientist whose work ("on the intelligence of plants") is recognised too late.
Professor Newcomer: Why has evolution given man a mind of infinite aspirations
when all nature cares about is survival?
Scholfield Huxley: People create wonderful things:
science, technology, art ...
They almost touch God. Then they die anyway.
To a Spirochaeta: On viewing a pathogen through the microscope.
They'd Never Know Me Now:
A cynical take on America, included here because of the
aëroplane section in the middle.
Trainor, the Druggist: Chemistry as psychological metaphor.
Tyrannosaurus, or Burning Letters:
"He came and went, and what's your soul // And what is mine, with their
crying needs? ... To think of monsters Mesozoic // Brightens though it dries no
tears. // I'll dream for life of our walks by the river.
// That was March and it's now July //
And this remains: I'll love you forever. //
Burn up the letters now. Goodbye."
Walter Simmons: Wrongly thought, even by himself, to be a genius.
William Jones: A naturalist who corresponds with Tyndall and others.
Maxwell, James Clerk:
Many of Maxwell's poems
are on scientific or mathematical themes. They are frequently humourous
and meant to be sung.
Translation of Horace Odes IV. vii.
Alone on a Hillside of Heather
British Association, 1874: Notes of the President's Address
(Cat's) Cradle Song, by a Babe in Knots
To the Chief Musician upon Nabla: A Tyndallic Ode
To the Committee of the Cayley Portrait Fund
The Death of Sir James, Lord of Douglas
To F. W. F[arrar] with Farrar's reply, beginning: "O Maxwell, if by reason's strength // And studying of Babbage, // You have transformed yourself at length // Into a mental cabbage ... "
O Had He First Been Swept Away
Translation of Sophocles Ajax 1192-1222.
To Hermann Stoffkraft: A Paradoxical Ode
I've Heard the Rushing
To K. M. D.
Lectures to Women on Physical Science
Two poems about attraction between student and
teacher. It is difficult to believe that even the most repressed
Victorian reader would not have noticed the various double entendres
in the second one.
Lines Written Under the Conviction That It is Not Wise to Study
Mathematics in November after One's Fire is Out
To Mrs. Maxwell
In Memory of Edward Wilson
who changed his mind about how to solve a problem in mid-Tripos.
"Gin a body hit a body // Will it fly? and where?"
Of Pearies and Their Origin
A Problem in Dynamics
Professor Tait, Loquitur (and Answer to Tait)
Recollections of Dreamland
Reflex Musings: Reflexions from Various Surfaces
Report on Tait's Lecture on Force
St. David's Day
Song of the Cub
Song of the Edinburgh Academician
A Student's Evening Hymn
There Are Some Folks That Say
There Lies Within a Long Recess a Bay ...
Translation of Virgil's Æneid I. 159-169.
Valedictory Address to the D--n [Dean John Alexander Frere]
Valentine by a Telegraph Clerk ♂ to a Telegraph Clerk ♀
Comic telegraphy poems were a genre, and this was a famous and much-read example. It was probably the only Maxwell poem with a significant
readership in his lifetime.
A Vision: of a Wrangler, of a University, of Pedantry, and of Philosophy
While I Was Your Beloved One
Translation of Horace Odes III. ix.
Whither, Whither, Reckless Romans ?
Translation of Horace's Seventh Epode.
Why, When Our Sun Shines Clearest
Will You Come Along With Me ?
May, Julia Harris:A somewhat geocentric
"song from the woods of Maine".
Treated as a metaphor for the armies of the American Civil War.
Epilogue to Clarel
"If Luther's day expand to Darwin's year // Shall that exclude the hope,
foreclose the fear?"
The Maldive Shark
The New Ancient of Days
About human fossils discovered at Engihoul, Belgium
(as described in Lyell's
Elements of Geology). It is clear that Melville
chose to write about these particular fossils because
"Engihoul" reminded him of "ghoul".
The New Zealot to the Sun
Science will conquer superstition (here linked to hallucinogenic drugs!).
A difficult poem. The first
stanza alludes to government weather-bureaux, then a controversial innovation.
A Rail Road Cutting near Alexandria in 1855
The feats of Watts are more impressive than the Pyramids (which
Melville seems to place near Alexandria).
In the Turret
One of the first poems about fighting in an iron ship.
A Utilitarian View of the Monitor's Fight
From the novel Mardi.
Roman Catholic political radical and suffragette.
Her poetry shows that not all Late Nineteenth Century people considered
science and religion at odds.
No other planet "knows the
secret, cherished, perilous // The terrible, shamefast, frightened,
whispered, sweet // Heart-shattering secret" of the Incarnation.
The Launch The afterlife has its own, undiscovered physics.
Who knows what is coming?
To a Nature Student
Forget Science; get involved in politics!
Mitchell, S. Weir:
The Birth and Death of Pain
For the fiftieth anniversary of general anæsthesia.
A Doctor's Century
For the centennial of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 1887.
For D. Hayes Andrews, on the 50th anniversary of his receiving the M.D.
On the Portrait of Oliver Wendell Holmes by Sarah Whitman
To William H. Welch
Lucifer in Starlight:
Milton's Satan is depressed by the spectacle of the universal order.
Meditation Under Stars
"What links are ours with orbs that are //
So resolutely far?"
Melampus Describes the ideal Romantic scientist: a saint,
almost a god, in complete harmony with the universe.
The World's Advance
Progress is a spiral. Includes a description of a drunkard's
Miyazawa Kenji: A professional chemist
and agricultural scientist
remembered for his highly literary fantasy and science fiction,
especially the 1927 novel Night on the Galactic Railroad.
He was a practising Nichiren Buddhist with a strong interest in the unity of
science and religion.
An interesting contrast to Whitman's
Ninomiya-Enright translation, 1957: the English text
is probably under copyright.
(The poem starts at the bottom of the page, but
Addressed as though it were a god. Very unusual.
Murray, R. F. ("A St. Andrews Man"):
did not exactly overwhelm this "bejant" (first-year University student).
The Science Club
at the University of St Andrews. "Hurrah for the Brewery visit
// And beer in liberal doses! // In the cause of Science, what is it
// But inspecting a technical process?"
... may eventually all be explored, but will still be
majestic and powerful.
A late example of geological Romanticism.
Livingstone in Africa, Canto V
Livingstone contemplates the stars, and later imagines a Christian
and industrialised (but not Europeanised) Africa.
A Modern Faust
"My own object has been to write a poem dealing with ...
the speculative difficulties peculiar to our day and generation,
arising from the conflict between science and accepted creeds ..."
About a terrible 1892 railway accident, caused by the error of an
overworked and ill-treated signalman.
Trying to come to terms with the scientific world-view.
Actually about the effect of seeing Sussex from the air.
A Sky Song
Patriotic song about aerial warfare.
Epic science-and-religion trilogy.
In the Air
Off on an aërial highway of the Twentieth Century!
"To Colonel Goethals and the Other Laborers in the Canal Zone."
Expresses the messianic and utopian idealism of American
engineers, but (the envoi suggests) with reservations about
how things will actually turn out.
Peace is the goal of all technology, even military technology.
Written shortly before the Great War.
The Fisk Street turbine
power station in Chicago, considered as a temple.
offers intimacy to parted friends.
as a queenly woman; the engineer as her lover.
History of astronomy in verse.
William Herschel Conducts
Sir John Herschel Remembers
The Book of the Earth
History of geology and evolutionary theory from Pythagoras to Darwin.
Published in 1925 and not available online because of copyright issues.
The Last Voyage
Thoughts about medicine, religion, and physics, with mortality looming over all.
Published in 1930 and not available online because of copyright issues.
Watchers of the Sky
THE NET ADVANCE OF PHYSICS
Nineteenth Century Poetry