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February 2010 - Poems on the Underground
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February 2010 - Poems on the Underground

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The six poems reflect contrasting responses by Blake, Tennyson, and four contemporary poets to the astonishing scientific discoveries made between the 18th and 21st centuries. …

The six poems reflect contrasting responses by Blake, Tennyson, and four contemporary poets to the astonishing scientific discoveries made between the 18th and 21st centuries.

William Blake, from Auguries of Innocence
Blake attacked ‘The Atoms of Democritus’ and ‘Newton’s Particles of light’ as symbols of scientific materialism. He opposed what he saw as a barren rationalism with his own extraordinary visionary powers. He is the great anti-science poet of early Romanticism, while Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley all incorporated the science of their times into their own poetic visions of human progress.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92), stanzas from In Memoriam (stanza cxxiii)
The Victorian poet tried to come to terms with the new science of evolution and geological time in his great elegy for Arthur Hallam. (Cf stanza lvi: ‘So careful of the type?’ but no. / From scarped cliff and quarried stone /She cries, ‘A thousand types are gone: / I care for nothing, all shall go.’)

Also featured are contemporary poems about space and time, earth and the heavens, the enduring mysteries of life and death. Inclduing In the microscope by Miroslav Holub, It looks so simple from a distance by the distinguished American/British poet Anne Stevenson, Out There by Jamie McKendrick, from Dark Matter: Poems of Space and Fulcrum/Writing a World by David Morley, from Scientific Papers (Carcanet 2002).

Published in Education , Travel
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  • 1. from Auguries of Innocence To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour. William Blake (1757-1827) tfl.gov.uk/poems Celebrating 350 years of the Royal SocietyMAYOR OF LONDON Transport for London
  • 2. from In MemoriamThere rolls the deep where grew the tree. The hills are shadows, and they flow O earth, what changes hast thou seen! From form to form, and nothing stands; There where the long street roars, hath been They melt like mist, the solid lands,The stillness of the central sea. Like clouds they shape themselves and go… Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92) tfl.gov.uk/poems Celebrating 350 years of the Royal SocietyMAYOR OF LONDON Transport for London
  • 3. In the microscope Here too are dreaming landscapes, lunar, derelict. Here too are the masses, tillers of the soil. Here too are cemeteries, And cells, fighters fame and snow. who lay down their lives And I hear murmuring, for a song. the revolt of immense estates. Miroslav Holub (1923-98) Translated by Ian Milner Reprinted by permission of Dilia © Miroslav Holub – heirs c/o Dilia tfl.gov.uk/poems Celebrating 350 years of the Royal SocietyMAYOR OF LONDON Transport for London
  • 4. Out ThereIf space begins at an indefinite zonewhere the chance of two gas molecules colliding He had to sleep between him and the air-lock.is rarer than a green dog or a blue moon Another heard a dog bark and a child crythen that’s as near as we can get to nothing. halfway to the moon. What once had beenNostalgia for the earth and its atmosphere where heaven was, is barren beyond imagining,weakens the flesh and bones of cosmonauts. and never so keenly as from out there canOne woke to find his crewmate in a space suit the lost feel earth’s the only paradise.and asked where he was going. For a walk. Jamie McKendrick (b. 1955) Reprinted by permission of the author and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation from Dark Matter: poems of space (2008) tfl.gov.uk/poems Celebrating 350 years of the Royal SocietyMAYOR OF LONDON Transport for London
  • 5. It looks so simple from a distance… The way lives touch, touch and spring apart, lose themselves in velvet the pulse synaptic, under winking planes, local, but its stretch binding black hostilities electric – as when cities with gold chains. Anne Stevenson (b. 1933) Reprinted by permission of Bloodaxe from Poems 1955-2005 (2004) tfl.gov.uk/poems Celebrating 350 years of the Royal SocietyMAYOR OF LONDON Transport for London
  • 6. ‘ While I talk and the flies buzz, Fulcrum/Writing aWorld a seagull catches a fish at the mouth of the Amazon, a tree falls in the Adirondack wilderness, a man sneezes in Germany, a horse dies in Tattany, What does that mean? Does the contemporaneity and twins are born in France. of these events with one another, and with a million others as disjointed, form a rational bond between them, and write them into anything that resembles for us a world?’ David Morley (b. 1964) Reprinted by permission of Carcanet from Scientific Papers (2002) tfl.gov.uk/poems Celebrating 350 years of the Royal SocietyMAYOR OF LONDON Transport for London