You are on page 1of 7

Essays of an Information Scientist, Vol:9, p.48, 1986 Current Contents, #7, p.

3-9, February 17, 1986

CuFwsn& Camm=nts”
EUGENE GARFIELD
INSTITUTE FOR SCIENTIFIC INFORMATION* 3501 MAR KETST PHILADELPHIA PA 19104

Further Reflections on the Poetry-Science Connection

Number

7
ers mentioned sion. I Another

Februarv

17, 1986

Most Current ContentP (CCY ) readers are absorbed in their own particular areas of research. I suspect that many of them, despite their willing immersion in their work, wish they had more time to consider and enjoy the philosophical and aesthetic aspects of science. In light of this, I am not surprised to learn that my essays on the connections between science and art are appreciated. When I discussed poetry and science, I mentioning such poets as Virgil, Shakespeare, and Walt Whitman, the response was remarkable. Readers also found it exciting to learn that many living scientists are accomplished poets. Indeed, after the essay was published, many readers wrote to me, sharing further examples of the poetry-science connection. I vowed that a follow-up discussion was definitely in order. My immediate purpose, therefore, is simply to look at other samples of verse inspired by the scientific world and to pay homage to additional poets and scientists who have attempted to bridge the gap between the “two cultures” of science and art. In the future we’ll take up the issue of creativity. In the past few years, two excellent sources on science and poetry have been published. Poems of Science,2 edited by John Heath-Stubbs, a poet and critic, and Phillips Salman, Department of English, Cleveland State University, Ohio, features verse on scientific themes from many well-known poets, including Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare, and oth-

in my original discusappropriate anthology is Songs from Unsung Worlds, 3 edited by Bonnie Biiyeu Gordon, an editor at Science 36. This book contains a collection of contemporary verse on scientific topics, including poetry from J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who led the effort to develop the atomic bomb in World War II. Science and poetry have at times been in conflict. Scientific inquiry, with its objective, rational scrutiny of humankind and nature, has been a source of irritation to poets, who seek to celebrate, rather than dissect, the natural world. In I.A. his book Poetries and Sciences, Richards, Department of English, Harvard University, refers to the advent of scientific knowledge as the “neutralization of nature. ”~ (p. 50) This neutralization replaced what Richards calls the “magical view” of the world—a conception of a world dominated by spirits and powers that could be evoked, but not controlled, by humans. Richards points out that this magical view, which afforded humankind an emotional involvement in the surrounding world, may have contributed to the development of various art forms, including poetry.~ (p. 51) Although the magical view has given way to more precise scientific investigation of the natural world, the same potential for emotional involvement, for discovery, stifl exists. “Thus,” writes Richards, “a number of [those] who might in other times have been po-

48

Lyman Entomological Museum and Research Laboratory. One dab marks you for life. as he put it. DC.“4 (p. Tigress. National Museum of Natural History. Macdonald Campus. The line forms on the left. curator of entomology. Heliconius’ taboo could be Their vogue. Djerassi ponders what might happen if such scents were marketed for human females. Washington. in which allusions are made to grasshoppers. Mennonites. ”b In addition to a novel. The sale is on. Some of the verse. I’ve discussed his scientific contributions in an earlier pieces What I’ve since discovered is that Carl has been. Are Satan’s scents To Hutterites. . the highly prolific chemist and scientific entrepreneur who is perhaps best known to the public for his contribution to the development of the birth-control pill.6 For example. Keith McE. In each poem. Burns decided one week to use a pair of original limericks to introduce a speaker. This odor scent to the female apparently dur- Attar made to order For jealous lovers. Having written poetry off and on since his boyhood. Even Pheromone. he has been writing verse. Kevan has been writing humorous verse about insects since hk student days. Heaven Sent to some. and their relatives. The response was very positive. Sexual perfumes of arthropods— Pheromones— Are the vogue In VOGUE. Ste. in contrast to the alluringly titled perfumes now jamming cosmetic counters: Arthropod promiscuity Has taught us well. Burns. from China and elsewhere. The result is BioGraffiti: A Natuml Se- 49 . Canada. While teaching biology at Harvard. humorous poems on the mating habits of insects. Some years later. a publisher’s agent suggested that Burns write a book of poems about biology. in GLAMOUR. a task that Burns did not relish. All over MADEMOISELLE. Kevan. McGill University. 52) My point is a simple truism-there are poets in the world of science and medicine. Assorted macho males. Smithsonian Institution. A selection that he sent me included “Amour d’Arthropode. The Land of the Grasshoppers and The Land of the Locusts. Thk involved concocting an introduction for each week’s guest speaker. Entomology also happens to be the specialty of John M. Two extensive compilations. and thereafter the use of light verse to introduce speakers became something of a tradition with Burns. . a straightforward excerpt from an entomological text detailing some facet of insect reproduction is followed by his own treatment of the subject. is more than 3.000 years old.-Anne-de-Bellevue. Tabu. One such poet is Carl Djerassi. The choices are: Reserved! Away! stop! No! keeps other males away and serves to enforce monogamy among females. He has also collected and translated poetry. ” a series of playful. Burns ran a weekly seminar on natural history. from throughout history. “leading a literary life on the side. Shi’ites. locusts.ets may today be in biochemical laboratories . . Quebec.8 contain a variety of poetry on these insects. katydids. the male Heliconius butto be an terfly passes what is believed anti-aphrodisiac ing mating. Kevan also contributed his own poetry to the collections. crickets. Chauvinist wolves. His jealousy we overlooked. Another poet-scientist is entomologist D.

scattering its reactive centers. 11 Cantilevered methyl groups. “Evolution of Auditory Ossicles.) Here’s one stanza of “Protein Biosynthesis” (p. 54-6) (sung to the tune of “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean”): The primary sequence of proteins Is coded within DNA On sense strand of the double helix Coiled antiparallel way.lo old Baum. not every punctilious trajectory by which billiard-ball complexes 50 . 21) demonstrates Burns’s sense of humor. Cornell University. consist of actual chemical processes set to popular melodies. all in a satiric vein.” Incidentally. changes posttranscriptional. An after-dinner speech at a 1958 symposium on lipids was the occasion for 12 composed (with “Hiawatha’s Lipid. which Baum wrote for his department’s annual Christmas party. and all Glycosylations. including an obvious taste for puns: [ection. Instead of an American Indian brave. Sinclair recently published a fascinating Citation Classic” commentary in CC about his work on essential fatty acids. in fact. the foreword to The Biochenrist$’ was written by the late Sir Songbook Hans Krebs. These “WoodwardHoffmann rules.” and “The Battle Hymn of the Aerobes. UK. Other humorous verse can be found in by HarThe Bioc/temist~’ . Magdalen College. ” (p. Ithaca. his brilliance. Sinclair manages to work in a good deal of technical material. battered in endless enharmonic motion. who shared the 1981 Nobel Prize in chemistry with Kenichi Fukui. professor of biochemistry.3 Hoffmann Nobel Prize for his principles of orbital symmetry conservation. the people in the audience: Praised his industry. The songs. University of London. Two of his poems. 14 is also a published poet.” But he does demonstrate considerable verbal skill in fitting complex chemistry into the proper rhyme and meter for each song. appear in Songs from Unsung was awarded the Worlds. winner of the 1953 Nobel Prize in chemistry and the subject of an earlier essay. Woodward. Oxford. He also pokes some fun at symposium audiences. And applauded his statistics.9 With malleus Aforethought Mammals Got an earful Of their ancestors’ Jaw. After Hiawatha’s presentation.Songbook.” no apology to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) by Hugh Sinclair. dispersing its functionality. The following example. Not every collision. For they had not understood him Nor could read his logarithms. which he developed with the late Robert B. In the preface Baum denies that his songs deserve to be called “poetry. Japan. 13 Theoretical chemist Roald Hoffmann. Harvard University. deal with the characteristics of molecules in chemical reactions. (Or almost proper. Kyoto Imperial University. New York. don’t alter such basics at all). Sinclair’s protagonist is a scientist about to deliver a paper on serum cholesterol to an expectant crowd at a symposium. Chelsea College. Hoffmann contemplates molecules in a slightly different context in the poem “Men and Molecules’’:ls Baum’s songbook also includes “Photosynthesis. A molecule swims. Like Baum. ” as they are now called. he does point out that certain lines require somewhat unorthodox emphasis by the singer in order to fit the melody.which contains poems on a variety of topics. (Introns and exons. “ “Blood Sugar.

Till vile deformity usurps the seat Where smiles should play and winning graces meet . In these poems. he says. lb He was also featured in our recent analysis of the 1982 chemistry articIes most cited in 1982-1984. the field of mathematics has also produced its share of poets. Beckmann includes French and German poems that have been written as mnemonic representations of the value of pi.. A soft brush of mohair or touch of hand. Gardiner. More poetry based on mathematics can be found in A History of n (pi). who had also Science. incidentally. Wylie. Wylie published several poems during the 1940s in the now-defunct Scientific Monthly. Most encounters end in a harmless sideways swipe. has the power to hold a bridge over a great span: Not truth. for it is vain to ask If what I postulate be justified. 1965-1978. a charter member of the American Society of Dental Surgeons and a founder of the first national dental journal. The hard knock must be just right. appeared in our study of the 1. Both the poet and the mathematician are interested in the form and meaning of an idea.. An exchange of momentum. Or what I prove possess the stamp of fact. arrive at their calculable ‘If.. and the repair of cavities. Greenville. including dentistry.. 51 . And such triumphs stem In no small measure from the power this game. wrote “Dentologia. He has also written two books of poems and limericks. Is. The lines below warn of the consequences of failing to brush: These I forswore In my novitiate.’ this only I assert.zz by Peter Beckmann. New Orleans. when correctly applied. zf3 Wylie’s poem “Paradox”21 considers the nature of mathematics—an abstract. studied literature. University of Colorado. must be carefully thought out and meticulously structured. 19 He compares the process of writing a poem to the polishing of a mathematical theorem. Department of Electrical Engineering. and both have a longing for order. up to as many as 29 decimal places. but how profound the spell! Hoffmann. the number of letters in each word represents the successive digits in pi. the American Journal of Dental In 1833 Brown.”zs This epic includes sections on dental materials. the effects of tooth loss. How fmil the wand. James F. as young men called To holy orders must abjure the world. like the solution to a math problem.17 Not surprisingly. South Carolina. And so it is for us. a retired professor of mathematics who still lectures at the universit y. Played with the thrice-attenuated shades Of things. Louisiana State University School of Dentistry... And my succe. A poem. Boulder. then. nor certainty. Among them is Clarence R. writes of Solyman Brown (1790-1876). In dark disguise insidious tartar comes Incrusts the teeth and irritates the gums. The setting counts. a Poem on the Diseases of the Teeth and Their Proper Remedies.rses are but pretty chains Linking i win doubts. The drive to write poetry is also found in the medical world.. A perfumed breeze Men (and women) are not as different from molecules as they think. The eyes need lock. Yet bridges stand. and men no longer era WI In two dimension. Furman University.. somewhat fragile discipline that. a mere deflection.meeting places leads to reaction. and glimmers of intent penetrate. has over their originals.000 most-cited contemporary scientists.

which had taken 29 lives in Philadelphia that summer. has been writing poems since childhood. which recently retained a poetry editor for its newsletter. Her experiences undoubtedly figured in her poem “Legionella (The Shark-Like Microbe) . He discussed the first efforts to investigate the Philadelphia Legionnaire’s epidemic while he was at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Further examples of poetry in the medical world can be found in the Journal of the American tion (JAMA ). has noted the growing number of physi- cians and other health-care providers who are either professionally or avocationally involved in the arts. consisting of reader contributions. Pennsylvania. For more information about the SLS newsletter. The IAMA also provides a creative outlet for medical professionals who are themselves invofved in the arts. Northeastern University. 19 South 22nd Street. mentioned in my original discussion. Lippin. He has proposed the creation of a new medical specialty known as “arts medicine. formerly the International Society of Scientist-Artists. Philadelphia. 360 Huntington Avenue. San Francisco. as envisioned by Lippin and other IAMA members.zq William Carlos Williams. The Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1963 was awarded to him posthumously.“z~ Katz asserts that her work as a scientist enhances her work as a poet. all-embracing discipline that seeks to explore the myriad relationships between medicine and the arts. IAMA’s president. having been stricken with a viral pneumonia similar to legionellosis following laboratory exposure to lung tissue from a Legionnaire’s patient . In the fall of 1976 Katz was one of many pathologists attempting to isolate the cause of Legionnaire’s disease. a medical director for Atlantic Richfield Company. Sciences. and Technology. and Technology. however. For example.25 Fortunately. Richard A. PA 19103. promises to be a broad. Readers can also contact a new organization. Georgia. The Medica[ Associa- column called “A Piece of My Mind” at the end of each issue. P.zs Katz is also an officer in a new organization founded to explore the common ground between medicine and art: the International Arts-Medicine Association (IAMA). Philadelphia. Philadelphia. now president. Department of English. I was a physician who also achieved renown as a poet. including poetry. as it includes doctors who specialize in preventing and treating illnesses and injuries associated with artistic activities. While not all medical poets can hope to equal Williams’s literary fame.This passage reminds me of the “silent affliction” of halitosis. Another pertinent organization is the International Society for the Arts. 52 . Fraser. ”zg This emerging field is in some ways similar to sports medicine. which I discussed several years ago. Incidentally. Hahnemann University School of Medicine. the Society for Literature and Science (SLS). a group of over 150 physician-poets.~ Arts medicine. Sheila Moriber Katz. Lippin hopes to see more research into the nature of creativity and the value of art in medical therapy. she recovered. Her poetry reflects her compassionate nature and sensitivity as a physician. write to the International Society for the Arts. we recently published a Citation Classic commentary by David W. Box 421704. CA 94142-1704. Swarthmore College. z~ Katz was recently appointed executive director of the American Physicians Poetry Association. Sciences. write to its main editor: Stuart Peterfreund. Anyone interested in more information can write to the International Arts-Medicine Association. She was featured on the front page of the New York Times.O. Boston. MA 02115. there are those who are equally devoted to creating poetry. such as singing or playing a musical instrument. The society publishes the quarterly jourInterested readers can nal Leonardo.

oT Incidentally. says King-Hele. Hoffmann is intrigued by the problem of locating complete bibliographic information on poetry that appears in obscure journals. Hampshire. He suggested an experiment for us to perform at ISI. The contest was sponsored by the Human Values in Medicine program of the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine. Rootstown. anyone interested in further reading can turn also to Imagina tion’s of Other p/ace. Six were from 1985. appeared originally in Synthesis. Science writer and editor Bernard Dixon has also considered thk topic. But it would make a fascinating addition to a future essay. The winning poem ap peared in JAMA in June. Hoffmann has noted that poetry often appears in smaller journals that do not have enormous readerships. King-Hele. 39Too often. obtain their publication lists. we checked a new ISP Arts & Hu inanities online database. London.often includes poetry. not opposed.” and both seek to explore humanity and nature. Space and time prevent me from reporting on such an experiment here.” Fourth-year medical students read the poem and. 35 he singled out an anthology of science poetry called Songs of Science. published at Harvard University. King-Hele has written on the similarities and differences between scientists and poets. The scientist-poets I’ve discussed demonstrate that the realms of art and science need not be separate.”ls for example. Writing in World Medicine. University of Western Ontario. Haliax. Texas. London.ss To gauge research interest in poetry and science. 1’11close with some verse written by my old friend Maurice Goldsmith. many of them book reviews.3’t He proposed that we select two or three poets. Dirckx. This database.SearchTM. While the methods may be different. noted. performed an informal experiment in diagnosis with the William Carlos Williams poem “To an Old Jaundiced Woman. with these two words in the title. by carefully examining the symptoms described or implied in the text. and Gordon L. I am not the first author to discuss the poetry-science connection.3’r His poem “Men and Molecules.32 In another article. has written in JAMA about medical themes in Virgil’s Aeneid. perpetuating the imagined gulf between the two disciplines.38 a 1955 collection poems on science and mathematics edited by Helen Plotz. corresponds to the printed Arts & Hu inanities Citation IndexTM (A& HCDM) and covers 1. In December of 1985 Maurice was in Houston.ol and the other prizewinning and honorable-mention poems were featured later in 1985. covers the years 1976 to the present. Ohio. he says. selected by W.300 journals in the arts and humanities from 1980 to the it should be present. Another relevant author is Desmond G. participating in a dis- 53 . Nova Scotia. A poet himself. The A&HCI. Ohio. available . Science Policy Foundation (SPF). through Bibliographic Retrieval Services (BRS). and run a search to see how much of their poetry is covered in our databases. originally compiled by Virginia Shortridge in Boston in 1930. Ian Cameron. Gosiger Health Center. A check of the keywords “poetry” and “science” revealed about 70 publications. Canada. Eastwood. JAMA also published poems from the 1984 WiWlam Car10s Williams Poetry Competition for Medical Students. University of Dayton. the aims of science and poetry are complementary. UK.sg The work of both. Dalhousie University. John H.36 Dixon also drew my attention to a 1961 anthology. poets and scientists tend to ignore one another’s territory. advances by a series of “imaginative leaps. Needless to say. Dickie. A Book of Science Verse. Occasional articles in medical journals have also dealt with poetry and medicine. Royal Aircraft Establishment. attempted to diagnose the woman’s various afflictions.

Halitosis.ry on N Fngl J.~1.wcb. Rkhards 5. wrt’s ofher place New York D G. Ke*an D K M. A mhule Poem. . S M. . . 2b. Dkckx 1 H. Cameron (“nr. . f%rt I rhe ba. &rray. . Healh. Hiawatha’s hp]cf F’er$pecI Curren[ L’on(. S1e. (n/<. .clcs most .dl Jones. . . 23-X New York Expwtmn Press.1 Vanada and Research La fmra(cmy. Mc. . . .[u. wnghook New Y(wk Pergam<m Press. . Sinclair H. 742-S 13E. 1982-1984.W. Pers<mal commumcatm. . 1984.scrcnttsl 1984.4m . rnmflci”e. To renwmher Phd~delph.wng tI p 223-8.33. Paradox Beckmann Gmdfner J F. J4MA-J 32.n)munica! a<>. . [”lcnt< al Pro< r!ce 13( 151 2(1. Plotz H. V.ser. BioGm[fttz Gmtkld Part. Poerrwr E. .}% ofon r“!ormolrort rr!e”r.ccu New York: refkc!mm W. b3 p. Shortrldge 3V. .pa!ed hy c!tatmn anal}sm~ fSI Pm. . Legmne!la (K. .< Ste -Anne-de-Belle\ue. . scm. “ Bull Ht. Eastwood 3fi 39.Med A W“ 24b 1326-9. de-Belle\ue. . 019861S1 REFERENCES I Garfield f?. !. .? from I A.wo. Vol. 1971 21M p comn]unicatiom Monthly b“ h.er.Sm!hera. Citati<m (?ass. her 1985. . . . her IYH5 FT. nica!wn. 1%2.tiy~ <. Iocu. rctenfjsf Philadelphia fSI Press.ease caught n like illne>\ FL CRC NY Itme. Garfield E.a Altman a profile <If haci-breath rese. m scmnce. . . .. . 1983 Vol. . 18 Ock]her MA 1978. 31. V. 1948. hntw . Djersssf C. cd. . Vwgd id f & Dkkk 33.>].! L’. .62 p. Scwnc’? and poetry New SCt 14:3 S2-4.ma\ Y. 297. ed SOW r of . !985. Garfield 1S[ Press. Vol. 1984 lb. 1970. 230 p Nomm. Kfng-Hele 40. . . Bums 1 M. p I 18 19f43 Vol L K.sc. .! of. .rl. . .r 27. 1%+3. ed [mo. 5 p f12--. ep. 19ho Commentary on Lane’eI I 381-3.. Ma rsh.. 1983.cussion on the interpretation of quantum theory.I’$<.c 14.fom). 7.vr 31:h15 -8.r of an rnform. NO 2.mhoppcr.a n na!uml WIWIIO” No! YoA.$te[ler I I I ).sciem e wrw Th<. . Talking Lcmdcm %lacmdlm. . l’he lend <)( (h<. Ho ffmann R. 15 Nc>\emhcr f. rcw<>trst IW6. . 1%1 2W p. . fiollmsnn 3S. S( Martin”\ affltclmn Br<)un and h}. . 1985 . StroW<.)(cd. f~a(hc.?. . . ?&w York: Vanlage Prcw 19”4 U.rc a. tz[ n III(I Nem York. tific entrepreneur Lm.[o. . Vol 30 No\cmber b. 1956 13(391 20 SC September 1985. M.z .-Anne. IW4 Gmrfiefd f?. .Nen . Med (“on: t-n[.gttt.-al Pracmt= 13. .m 253:3595. n[r (’lzm.lt<~tz I<)<. Gordon 4. The wi.vxmce world . 1955 . Ver Ellen P A. Personal comm.(an tn. Med 81( 1I 14-5. .lc hw and mtroductmn 5 p 2tW-8. . .ntertf$ 151-52( . . . The land O( the gm. . 5 p m Carl D]erassi.. The 1982 chenln\tr> ar!. cc<momws.. 11S9-9”. . 16 L)ecernher 1%+5 -. G **** My thanks to Linda Cooper and Christopher King for their help in /he preparation of this essay. IW 9.18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 Garfiefd E. . 551-tIl. . [985.%hnan P.. . ed. . . 1 But when my absence becomes presence then is my Love by Reality restored. Oec’e. . .rrenf 29. ed.!. 16 ) Baum H. . . 1982. . friend..4m 1985. .r New York MA ion . 28 Oct<. h<.menw Boston. . . . .. . WM. lq81 an exerciw !.Med 4 r. . 326 p I Memoir 8. . . . Tekph~me . 328 p Philadelphia 3. . . . Phdadelph. . 28. MA} 7111:43.C. .. Dixon 36. I-llf. on a remarkahk 721-.. . 10. . 4 ‘2-h and ad+wr f WO. hl)man ISI P. BoWon. A hft(orv .n ?0 Canada. ..xwnm worlds ami x’w. Lyman Ent<>molog. Arts medwmc-a call for a new medical specially Phd. 10 II 12 1W5.<d$mg G L. B. 1’930 245 p.ellmt. JAAtA—J .cal Muwum catMu\eum and Research 2. Cum. W. Siubbs 1 & . . 15. . Bnrkha. eds B B.s.p 18 Oct<> her 1985.. . The china. 5 p. . . WI A hook o/ . 1985. S<. Nortcm. and htwat.t f%. .rr Philadelphia 1983. Crm+ell. 19-5 112 p. climcal prubkm .rl De. 198< lam R.. The 1. 121 p.1-I”. . . Penguin. . Goldsmith Ph. . 1955 2(XI p. . 1984.rmo[lc. KaIz S M.t in poetry. Were the 198f Nobel prizewinner\ Lmo. Fraser D W.(NIO contcmpomp \cwnti\l\ m<>\t-ciI’cd 1965-19-8 lSf Prc.trforrtmlwn WJlie C R.logis! st”dyi”g the legion B<n’a Ram. Pers<mal communicahon.~ The discussion inspired him to compose the following poem: How odd of Reality to trap me in a magic snare so that my Love is absent when I’m not there.. Vol. Sw Hans Kreh\ Bm/ Y<)behw.ce c<mnw no. (Memmr\ Lyman Entomolog.r (Camhridgc. 1956. . ) Le.\.. . The pa!tie. . a“d molecdcs.: . Citation <’. Llppln 30 International Classic Commen!. Pbiladelphiii 1S1 Press. . . . un. 19n4. Press. Song. L!!.ntic.3244-51. lb December 54 . . . The p<wry-scie. PreM.nf!$[ 1983. 15 April Arts-Medicfne Awx+atlon..{ [ n.. 25. .Med.rdmn t. 1985. 6.c poem “Denhdogm the wk. Tekphonc . 1977. [’<w) r of a“ mformormr~ 5 p. . 34.M <. . R A. The hmrhem($i$’ E. .v Laboratory.MeJ p.