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A Victorian Portal to Marvel – The Marginalian


“Science describes precisely from exterior, poetry describes precisely from inside,” Ursula Ok. Le Guin wrote in her great meditation on subjectifying the universe. “Science explicates, poetry implicates. Each rejoice what they describe.”

We have now a phrase for that widespread celebration: marvel — the sense that the world is unusual and exquisite, and we’re hovering on the sting between understanding and awe as we behold the bare poetry of actuality.

A century and a half earlier than Le Guin, a century and a half earlier than the inception of The Universe in Verse, the polymathic scientist and poet Robert Hunt (September 6, 1807–October 17, 1887) explored the consonance and complementarity of those twin languages of marvel in his 1848 e book The Poetry of Science; or, Research of the Bodily Phenomena of Nature (public library | public area) — an bold summation of all the key discoveries of science to that time, from gravity and lightweight to the molecular forces and the replica of crops, revealing the poetry and aesthetic ecstasy contained in the scientific information.

Mild distribution on cleaning soap bubble from a Nineteenth-century French science textbook. (Obtainable as a print and as a face masks.)

Within the epoch when Keats laid down the Romantic dictum that “magnificence is fact, fact is magnificence,” Hunt considers the interdependence of poetry, philosophy, and science by means of the lens of their widespread pursuit of fact and wonder:

The True is the Stunning. Each time this turns into evident to our senses, its influences are of a soul-elevating character. The gorgeous, whether or not it’s perceived within the exterior types of matter, related within the harmonies of sunshine and color, appreciated within the modulations of candy sounds, or mingled with these influences that are, because the interior lifetime of creation, ever interesting to the soul by means of the vesture which covers all issues, is the pure theme of the poet, and the chosen examine of the thinker.

[…]

Science solicits from the fabric world, by the persuasion of inductive search, a improvement of its elementary rules, and of the legal guidelines which these obey. Philosophy strives to use the found information to the good phenomena of being, — to infer massive generalities from the fragmentary discoveries of extreme induction, — and thus to ascend from matter and its properties as much as these impulses which stir the entire, floating, because it had been, on the confines of sense, and indicating, although dimly, these superior powers which, extra practically associated to infinity, mysteriously manifest themselves within the phenomena of thoughts. Poetry seizes the information of the one and the theories of the opposite; unites them by a satisfying thought, which appeals for fact to probably the most unthinking soul, and leads the reflective mind to increased and better workouts; it connects widespread phenomena with exalted concepts; and, making use of its holiest powers, it invests the human thoughts with the sovereign energy of the True.

Double rainbow from Les phénomènes de la physique, 1868. (Obtainable as a print.)

So considered, science shouldn’t be a materialist diminishment of the world’s magic however a magnifying lens for it — a form of spirituality of marvel. A century and a half earlier than Richard Feynman’s basic Ode to a Flower and twenty years earlier than Emily Dickinson captured this very sentiment in her nice ecological poem, Hunt writes:

The shape and color of a flower could excite our admiration; however once we come to look at all of the phenomena which mix to supply that piece of symmetry and that beautiful hue, — to be taught the physiological association of its structural elements, — the chemical actions by which its woody fibre and its juices are produced, — and to analyze these legal guidelines by which is regulated the ability to throw again the white sunbeam from its floor in colored rays, — our admiration passes to the upper feeling of deep astonishment on the perfection of the processes.

Tulips from The Temple of Flora, printed the 12 months Hunt was born. (Obtainable as a print and as stationery playing cards, benefitting The Nature Conservancy.)

With an allusion to Shakespeare, he provides:

There are, certainly, “tongues in bushes;” however science alone can interpret their mysterious whispers, and on this consists its poetry.

He returns to the dialogue between fact and wonder that animates one of the best elements of the human spirit:

The human thoughts naturally delights within the discovery of fact; and even when perverted by the fixed operations of prevailing errors, a glimpse of the Actual comes upon it just like the smile of daylight to the sorrowing captive of some darkish jail… Fact can not die; it passes from thoughts to thoughts, imparting gentle in its progress, and continuously renewing its personal brightness throughout its diffusion. The True is the Stunning; and the truths revealed to the thoughts render us able to perceiving new beauties on the earth. The gladness of fact is just like the ringing voice of a joyous little one, and probably the most distant recesses echo with the cheerful sound. To be for ever true is the Science of Poetry, — the revelation of fact is the Poetry of Science.

[…]

As every atom of matter is concerned in an environment of properties and powers, which unites it to each mass of the universe, so every fact, nevertheless widespread it might be, is surrounded by impulses which, being woke up, cross from soul to soul like musical undulations, and which will likely be repeated by means of the echoes of area, and extended for all eternity.

Complement with the science and poetry of astronomer Rebecca Elson — the twenieth century’s excessive priestess of our “accountability to awe” — then revisit the poetic physicist Alan Lightman on the shared psychology of inventive breakthrough in artwork and science.

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