WATCHERS OF THE MOON:
Poetry and Mathematical Physics in the Long Nineteenth Century
Author Index: B
Nottingham Express Transit Tram 205. Photo by Chris McKenna, aka Thryduulf.
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!
Leader of a once-influential poetic school
destroyed, perhaps unfairly, when critics labelled it "Spasmodicism".
A sort of Platonic dialogue about literature
and everything under the sun, written in iambic couplets. The
worldly, comedic mood is not at all typical of Bailey.
Science and technology are mentioned in passing throughout;
longer passages include:
here is a poet who dislikes science for the usual
reasons. The other characters then dispute his position, but soon
(as usual throughout) wander off-topic.
'Tis not the dull, dry calculated facts The poet-character
resumes his attack: "Do asymptotes assist the soul's
salvation? // Are cube roots paradisal vegetation?"
Much you aver is true But the modern poet should accept
his age, and not "rail at railroads".
Friend Broadbrim If a Quaker scientist discovered a way to
abolish war, he would be ignored, but if someone invented an
intercontinental missile and offered to share the plans, he
would attract so many listeners "Hyde Park could not hold them."
A Scotchman, wheresoe'er you chance to go ... will already be there:
"And if, perchance, employed, // In prospecting a bran new asteroid, //
Ae braw Scot wad be loomin' in the void."
Equation ... for a literary critic, that vile creature.
Pegasus, fleeter than telegram
This would be a fine comic maths poem, but unfortunately includes
a now-unacceptable rhyme for "figures". Casual racism and sexism abound in
The Age, although the considered political
views of the characters are fairly moderate by Victorian standards.
Festus Today almost completely unread, this vast
poem -- meant to be an epic on the lines of Paradise Lost
with perhaps some traces of Goethe's Faust -- was
taken very seriously indeed by Tennyson, Longfellow, and others.
It is a story of angels, set partly in interstellar space and remarkable
both for its use of contemporary science and for its science-fictional
world-building. Bailey published multiple versions throughout his lifetime;
this is the one he considered final.
Knowledge Meaning of God, as manifest in the infinite, interconnected
The Mystic In praise of an ancient wizard-king (or perhaps
some kind of god; it's a bit hard to tell) whose knowledge includes but transcends
the scientific. Very long and seemingly meant for readers with prior inside
A Spiritual Legend Literally Gnostic Neo-Platonist creation myth. There
is an absolute duality between the evil material world and God, who did not
so much create the universe as organise it through the
intermediation of angels. Blends state-of-the-art geological and geographical
information with cabalistic and magical lore.
Universal Hymn An attempt to update
Psalm 148 with modern scientific knowledge.
One passage discusses the theory that the Main Belt asteroids are fragments
of a ruined planet, and suggests that they will be put back together in the
world to come!
Baker, Karle Wilson:
A forgotten (but in her lifetime enormously successful) serious female poet from Texas.
The children's poems below are not representative of her work as a whole.
Sennacherib parody from an Alice in Wonderland knock-off.
The Fractions are beer-swilling Prussian-like
invaders who sit around multiplication tables.
Not terribly scientific, but the only poem we have seen
about the Summer Triangle asterism!
Balmont, Konstantin Dmitrievich:
Translated by Babette Deutsch and Avrahm Yarmolinsky.
Bangs, John Kendrick: Prolific and versatile writer
who churned out popular literary works in almost every genre, verse
included, for American magazines around 1900. His Sherlock Holmes
parodies (which would perhaps have been illegal under later copyright
laws) were especially popular.
Don't get lost in space, Mr. U.S. Citizen,
because Uncle Sam can't rescue you there. From Emblemland,
a 1902 Alice in Wonderland imitation co-authored by
Charles Raymond Macauley (a specialist in unauthorised sequels,
especially to Sherlock Holmes, but not as highly regarded as
Bangs). It is unclear who wrote what part of Emblemland.
Barbauld, Anna Lætitia: Student and
friend of Joseph Priestley.
Omnipresent God in the scientific universe.
Champion of Truth.
To a Romantic scientific genius: "While thy praises
through wide realms extend, we sit in shades, and mourn
the absent friend."
To Dr. Priestley, December 29, 1792.
Priestley -- a supporter of the French Revolution -- escaped from
England to the US after "Church-and-King" mobs burnt down his home
and the Unitarian meeting-house in Birmingham.
Eighteen Hundred and Eleven.
The second half of this poem, looking past 1811 to the distant future, is
an early example of "post-apocalyptic" science-fiction, as tourists
from Lake Ontario visit the ruins of London: "Choked no
more with fleets, fair Thames survey through reeds and sedge pursue his
About the Magi.
"Wrecks of empires and of worlds are borne like atoms on its bosom."
An Inventory of the Furniture in Dr. Priestley's Study.
The Mouse's Petition.
"Found in the trap where he had been confined all night
by Dr. Priestley, for the sake of making experiments
with different kinds of air."
To Mrs. P---, with some drawings of birds and insects
A standard Romantic nature poem, but with more natural history
To Mr. S. T. Coleridge, 1797.
"Youth beloved of Science, of the Muse beloved ..."
A Summer Evening's Meditation.
"On Fancy's wild and roving wing I sail from the green borders of
the peopled Earth ... to the dim verge, the suburbs of the
system, where cheerless Saturn 'midst his watery moons sits
like an exiled monarch ..."
The Transit of Mercury (To Baron de Stonne)
"Who had wished at the next transit to find himself again between
Mrs. La Borde and Mrs. Barbauld."
Beddoes, Thomas Lovell:
Bell, James Madison:
Distinguished African-American writer.
Arguably evolutionist, certainly pro-scientific.
Belloc, Hilaire: The famous Catholic opponent of modernity was,
unsurprisingly, sceptical of science (especially evolutionary theory), and
engaged in a long literary feud with H. G. Wells.
Belloc's most famous science-themed poem, but not
really a typical one.
The Frozen Mammoth
George "The moral is that little Boys // Should
not be given dangerous toys."
Hildebrand "... who was frightened by a passing motor."
On Hygiene: Succinct quatrain against modern medicine.
The Microbe: "All these have never yet been seen // But Scientists,
who ought to know, // Assure us that they must be so ..."
"A Prize Poem Submitted by Mr. Lambkin of Burford
to the Examiners of the University of Oxford on the
Prescribed Poetic Theme Set by Them in 1893, The
Benefits of the Electric Light." (Lambkin was one of
Belloc's satiric personæ.)
Bentley, Edmund Clerihew: Inventor and namesake of the
Sometimes attributed to Bentley's
colleague G. K. Chesterton.
Sir Humphrey Davy The very first clerihew to be written.
Binyon, Laurence: Best known for his Great War poetry,
although he was a generation older than
most of the soldiers who fought in it.
... are independent of the universe.
The Wharf on Thames-side: Winter Dawn
Blake, William: Archenemy of Enlightenment science and rationalistic
In his intricate private mythology, Newton was a superhuman
figure, a kind of Dark Lord.
Blind, Mathilde: Famous in her lifetime, then ignored
(like many other female poets) by the Twentieth Century
literary establishment. Lately she seems to be making a
bit of a comeback.
Book-length poem about cosmic history, showing that the Romantic
world-view persisted long after Darwin.
Boker, George Henry:
The Song of the Earth
Rather strange 14 page poem, half astrology and half science, in which the Earth
bitterly complains about the other planets.
Bowles, William Lisle:
One of the first great poems about an air disaster, written in 1910.
Translated from the Russian by Lyudmila Purgina.
Days Departed, or Banwell Hill "A Lay of the Severn Sea".
A long poem about the West of England and the author's religious
views, partly occasioned by fossil discoveries in
Caves and elsewhere. Like the other scientifically-inclined
clergymen who explored the caves, Bowles was an
Old Earth Creationist, seeking evidence of both the Flood and
the forgotten ages before it.
On an Eclipse of the Moon at Midnight
Brontë, Emily Jane: All of Emily Brontë's poetry
was written as part of a role-playing fantasy game set on
the imaginary Pacific islands of Gondal and Gaaldine. Emily and
Anne played the game from childhood to the end of their lives ;
for Emily in particular, Gondal was every bit as real as Yorkshire, and
many of the oddities in Wuthering Heights make sense when
one realises that the novel takes place in the game's universe, not ours.
While the Gondal Game is (finally being recognised as) important in
the history of science fiction, its connexions with science
per se are few. Nevertheless, Emily's typically Late
Romantic cosmological vision comes through in a few of the
best poems -- or so the critics assert. (There is a problem,
however: many if not all of the poems were intended to reflect
the views of in-game characters, not of Emily herself, and
were frequently even "signed" by the speaker, sometimes with
dates referring to the period of the action rather than the actual
time of composition.)
Unsigned; the speaker is probably "Augusta Almeda",
Emily's favourite character.
Coward Soul is Mine Generally considered to be Emily's
best poem, and selected by the family to be read at her funeral.
There is no signature, but it seems to be part of a cycle
connected with the last major event of the Gondal saga, a
catastrophic revolutionary war.
Bryan, Vincent P.: American popular song-writer.
Perhaps the most famous early motoring song.
"After he has been extemporising upon the musical instrument of his invention."
Very complex meditation on creativity, with mathematical imagery (and embedded
mathematical verse structures) drawn from music theory and Pythagorean philosophy.
Caliban Upon Setebos
"Or, Natural Theology in the Island." The various animals mentioned in the
poem all figure in The Voyage of the Beagle, to which
this is evidently a response.
"Containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish, the Arab Physician": to wit,
meeting and scientifically examining the resurrected Lazarus.
A lady goes to a chemist to buy some poison.
Treats mesmerism only as a form of sorcery, not as a "science".
Mr Sludge, "the Medium"
Thinly disguised attack on Daniel Home and the
popularity of "psychical research".
Bryant, William Cullen: An American representative of
Romanticism's pro-science wing.
Could easily have been written in pre-Copernican times.
The Order of Nature Translation of a passage in Boethius
Consol. Philos. IV, vi).
Song of the Stars Young solar systems rejoice at the
prospects ahead of them.
Bungay, George W.:
A metaphor for political reform.
Burgess, Clinton Brooks:
Rev. Rectangular Square
Burgess, Gelett: "Ah, yes, I wrote The Purple Cow --
I'm sorry now I wrote it -- but I can tell you, anyhow, I'll kill
you if you quote it."
Lord Byron: Computer scientists remember him as the father
of Ada Lovelace, geneticists for another reason ...
Possibly inspired by the atmospheric effects of the
Mount Tambora eruption in 1815, this is Byron's image of a
devastated future Earth.
Don Juan, Canto X. Byron's take on Newton.
Canto XIII, 87 features a brief appearance by "Angle,
the soi-disant mathematician", thought by some critics to
be Charles Babbage.
Granta: A Medley
College prizes: "He surely well deserves to gain them //
With all the honours of his college // Who sacrifices hours of rest ... //
Or puzzles o'er the deep triangle // Deprived of many a wholesome meal."
Prayer of Nature An example of Romantic pantheism
(although many Romantics held more conventional religious views).
Song of the Luddites with whom Byron strongly sympathised.
THE NET ADVANCE OF PHYSICS
Nineteenth Century Poetry