Why Wait for Science


Sarcastic Science, she would like to know
In her complacent ministry of fear,
How we propose to get away from here
When she has made things so we have to go
Or be wiped out. Will she be asked to show
Us how by rocket we may hope to steer
To some star off there, say, a half light-year
Through temperature of absolute zero?
Why wait for Science to supply the how
When any amateur can tell it now?
The way to go away should be the same
As fifty million years ago we came—
If anyone remembers how that was
I have a theory, but it hardly does.
by Robert Frost

I am like a slip of comet

I am like a slip of comet,

Scarce worth discovery, in some corner seen

Bridging the slender difference of two stars,

Come out of space, or suddenly engender’d

By heady elements, for no man knows:

But when she sights the sun she grows and sizes

And spins her skirts out, while her central star

Shakes its cocooning mists; and so she comes

To fields of light; millions of travelling rays

Pierce her; she hangs upon the flame-cased sun,

And sucks the light as full as Gideon’s fleece:┬░

But then her tether calls her; she falls off,

And as she dwindles shreds her smock of gold

Amidst the sistering planets, till she comes

To single Saturn, last and solitary;┬░

And then goes out into the cavernous dark.

So I go out: my little sweet is done:

I have drawn heat from this contagious sun:

To not ungentle death now forth I run.

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Kew Gardens

(i.m. Ian Armstrong Black, d. 1971)
Distinguished scientist, to whom I greatly defer
(old man, moreover, whom I dearly love),
I walk today in Kew Gardens, in sunlight the colour of honey
which flows from the cold autumnal blue of the heavens to light these tans and golds,
these ripe corn and leather and sunset colours of the East Asian liriodendrons,
of the beeches and maples and plum-trees and the stubborn green banks of
the holly hedges –
and you walk always beside me, you with your knowledge of names
and your clairvoyant gaze, in what for me is sheer panorama
seeing the net or web of connectedness. But today it is I who speak
(and you are long dead, but it is to you I say it):

‘The leaves are green in summer because of chlorophyll
and the flowers are bright to lure the pollinators,
and without remainder (so you have often told me)
these marvellous things that shock the heart the head can account for.
But I want to sing an excess that is not so simply explainable,
to say that the beauty of the autumn is a redundant beauty,
that the sky had no need to be this particular shade of blue,
nor the maple to die in flames of this particular yellow,
nor the heart to respond with an ecstasy that does not beget children.
I want to say that I do not believe your science
although I believe every word of it, and intend to understand it;
that although I rate that unwavering gaze higher than almost everything,
there is another sense, a hearing, to which I more deeply attend.
Thus I withstand and contradict you, I, your child,
who have inherited from you the passion that causes me to oppose you.’


by D M Black, for his father.

A Subterranean City……

I followed once a fleet and mighty serpent
Into a cavern in a mountain’s side;
And, wading many lakes, descending gulphs,
At last I reached the ruins of a city,
Built not like ours but of another world,
As if the aged earth had loved in youth
The mightiest city of a perished planet,
And kept the image of it in her heart,
So dreamlike, shadowy, and spectral was it.
Nought seemed alive there, and the very dead
Were of another world the skeletons.
The mammoth, ribbed like to an arched cathedral,
Lay there, and ruins of great creatures else
More like a shipwrecked fleet, too great they seemed
For all the life that is to animate:
And vegetable rocks, tall sculptured palms,
Pines grown, not hewn, in stone; and giant ferns,
Whose earthquake shaken leaves bore graves for nests.


from Death’s Jest Book, III, i
by Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803-1849)

— perhaps more Science Fiction than Science, but an interesting poem form the 1800s nevertheless.

Eulogy for a Voyager

On August 25, 2013, spacecraft Voyager 1 left our solar system,
            crossing the heliopause into interstellar space

O wanderer, lonely messenger
free from hold of gravity,
free to sift the stardust between stars,
to touch the face of God,

your nuclear heart pulses, keeps you
alive and warm enough to call me
home, billions of miles away… too
far, solar wind to your back, voice

fading after crossing turbulence.
In darkness, you search for answers,
but only find more questions.
The whole host of heaven smiles.

And I too stand on the precipice
of the universe, to catch that faint
glint, the final cry lost in static hiss
—that silvery light-thread of my soul.

Into shards of memory, we look back,
see only a smattering of planets
and our home, that bone white speck
in the glare of a dimming sun.

by John Mannone


To Iron-Founders and Others

When you destroy a blade of grass
You poison England at her roots:
Remember no man’s foot can pass
Where evermore no green life shoots.

You force the birds to wing too high
Where your unnatural vapours creep:
Surely the living rocks shall die
When birds no rightful distance keep.

You have brought down the firmament
And yet no heaven is more near;
You shape huge deeds without event,
And half-made men believe and fear.

Your worship is your furnaces,
Which, like old idols, lost obscenes,
Have molten bowels; your vision is
Machines for making more machines.

O, you are busied in the night,
Preparing destinies of rust;
Iron misused must turn to blight
And dwindle to a tetter’d crust.

The grass, forerunner of life, has gone,
But plants that spring in ruins and shards
Attend until your dream is done:
I have seen hemlock in your yards.

The generations of the worm
Know not your loads piled on their soil;
Their knotted ganglions shall wax firm
Till your strong flagstones heave and toil.

When the old hollow’d earth is crack’d,
And when, to grasp more power and feasts,
Its ores are emptied, wasted, lack’d,
The middens of your burning beasts

Shall be raked over till they yield
Last priceless slags for fashioning high,
Ploughs to wake grass in every field,
Chisels men’s hands to magnify. 

 by Gordon Bottomley (1874–1948). 

Surely the first Eco-poem? 

Poet to Physicist in his Laboratory

Come out and talk to me          

for then I know

into what you are shaping.

Thinking is no more,

I read your thoughts for a symbol:

a movement towards an act.

I give up on thought                            

as I see your mind

leading into a mystery

deepening about you.

What are you trying to discover

beyond the zone of habit

and enforced convention?

There is the animus

that spends itself on images,

the most complex being

convention and habit.

You shall form patterns                       

of research and bind yourself

to laws within your knowledge,

and always conscious of your limitations

make settlement,

with patience to instruct you

as it always does

in your research: an arrangement

spanning an abyss of time,

and you will find yourself patient

when you are questioned.


by David Ignatow