Archive for the Literature Category

The Manor Farm, by Edward Thomas

Posted in Literature with tags , on February 7, 2018 by telescoper

The rock-like mud unfroze a little, and rills
Ran and sparkled down each side of the road
Under the catkins wagging in the hedge.

But earth would have her sleep out, spite of the sun;
Nor did I value that thin gliding beam
More than a pretty February thing
Till I came down to the old manor farm,
And church and yew-tree opposite, in age
Its equals and in size.
The church and yew
And farmhouse slept in a Sunday silentness.

The air raised not a straw.
The steep farm roof,
With tiles duskily glowing, entertained
The mid-day sun; and up and down the roof
White pigeons nestled.
There was no sound but one.

Three cart horses were looking over a gate
Drowsily through their forelocks, swishing their tails
Against a fly, a solitary fly.

The winter’s cheek flushed as if he had drained
Spring, summer, and autumn at a draught
And smiled quietly.
But ’twas not winter–
Rather a season of bliss unchangeable,
Awakened from farm and church where it had lain
Safe under tile and latch for ages since
This England, Old already, was called Merry.


by Edward Thomas (1878-1917; he died at Arras, France, in April 1917).



A Man’s a Man for a’ that – Robert Burns

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , , on January 25, 2018 by telescoper

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that.
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man’s a Man for a’ that:
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that;
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that:
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that:
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities an’ a’ that;
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.

by Robert Burns (1759-1796)


R.I.P. Ursula Le Guin (1929-2018)

Posted in Biographical, Literature with tags , , on January 24, 2018 by telescoper

I heard some more very sad news this morning: that Ursula K. Le Guin passed away on Monday at the age of 88. She was a great writer of science fiction and fantasy literature who was highly original and also highly influential. When I heard the news this morning I went through my bookshelves. I haven’t kept all the books I devoured as a teenager, but I kept this one:

I must have had this for 40 years or more. A Wizard of Earthsea vies with Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast as the best books I have read in this genre, way above the standard fare of the Swords and Sorcery genre. I must read this again in memory of the author, as I suspect will many others of my age who read it in their teenage years.

R.I.P. Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018)

Light, I know, treads the ten million stars

Posted in Poetry, The Universe and Stuff with tags , on January 22, 2018 by telescoper

Light, I know, treads the ten million stars,
And blooms in the Hesperides. Light stirs
Out of the heavenly sea onto the moon’s shores.
Such light shall not illuminate my fears
And catch a turnip ghost in every cranny.
I have been frightened of the dark for years.
When the sun falls and the moon stares,
My heart hurls from my side and tears
Drip from my open eyes as honey
Drips from the humming darkness of the hive.
I am a timid child when light is dead.
Unless I learn the night I shall go mad.
It is night’s terrors I must learn to love,
Or pray for day to some attentive god
Who on his cloud hears all my wishes,
Hears and refuses.
Light walks the sky, leaving no print,
And there is always day, the shining of some sun,
In those high globes I cannot count,
And some shine for a second and are gone,
Leaving no print.
But lunar night will not glow in my blackness,
Make bright its corners where a skeleton
Sits back and smiles, A tiny corpse
Turns to the roof a hideous grimace,
Or mice play with an ivory tooth.
Stars’ light and sun’s light will not shine
As clearly as the light of my own brain,
Will only dim life, and light death.
I must learn night’s light or go mad.

by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

Two hundred years of Ozymandias

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on January 11, 2018 by telescoper

The sonnet Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley is so famous that it really needs no introduction, especially because I’ve posted it before, but I couldn’t help marking the fact that it was first published in the to the literary magazine The Examiner exactly two hundred years ago today, on January 11th  1818:


Here’s the poem in more legible form:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

What you may not know, however, is that Shelley’s poem was one of a pair with the same title on the same theme; the  other, composed by Shelley’s friend Horace Smith, appeared about three weeks later on February 1st 2018. The two friends had written their poems as a sort of competition. Here’s the other Ozymandias:

In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows.
“I am great Ozymandias,” saith the stone,
“The King of kings: this mighty city shows
The wonders of my hand.” The city’s gone!
Naught but the leg remaining to disclose
The sight of that forgotten Babylon.
We wonder, and some hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when through the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the wolf in chase,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What wonderful, but unrecorded, race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.


Hamiltonian Poetry

Posted in Poetry, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on January 8, 2018 by telescoper

I posted a couple of items last week inspired by thoughts of the mathematician William Rowan Hamilton. Another thing I thought I might mention about Hamilton is that he also wrote poetry, and since both science and poetry feature quite regularly on this blog I thought I’d share an example.

In fact during the `Romantic Era‘ (in which Hamilton lived) many scientists wrote poetry related either to their work or to nature generally. One of the most accomplished of these scientist-poets was chemist and inventor Humphry Davy who, inspired by his friendship with the poets Wordsworth and Coleridge, wrote poems throughout his life. Others to do likewise were: physician Erasmus Darwin; and astronomer William Herschel (who was also a noted musician and composer),

William Rowan Hamilton interests me because seems to have been a very colourful character as well as a superb mathematician, and because his work relates directly to physics and is still widely used today. Interestingly, he was a very close friend of William Wordsworth, to whom he often sent poems with requests for comments and feedback. In the subsequent correspondence, Wordsworth was usually not very complimentary, even to the extent of telling Hamilton to stick to his day job (or words to that effect). What I didn’t know was that Hamilton regarded himself as a poet first and a mathematician second. That just goes to show you shouldn’t necessarily trust a man’s judgement when he applies it to himself.

Here’s an example of Hamilton’s verse – a poem written to honour Joseph Fourier, another scientist whose work is still widely used today:

Hamilton-for Fourier

If that’s one of his better poems, then I think Wordsworth may have had a point!

The serious thing that strikes me is not the quality of the verse, but how many scientists of the 19th Century, Hamilton included, saw their scientific interrogation of Nature as a manifestation of the human condition just as the romantic poets saw their artistic contemplation. It is often argued that romanticism is responsible for the rise of antiscience. I’m not really qualified to comment on that but I don’t see any conflict at all between science and romanticism. I certainly don’t see Wordsworth’s poetry as anti-scientific. I just find it inspirational:

I HAVE seen
A curious child, who dwelt upon a tract
Of inland ground, applying to his ear
The convolutions of a smooth-lipped shell;
To which, in silence hushed, his very soul
Listened intensely; and his countenance soon
Brightened with joy; for from within were heard
Murmurings, whereby the monitor expressed
Mysterious union with its native sea.
Even such a shell the universe itself
Is to the ear of Faith; and there are times,
I doubt not, when to you it doth impart
Authentic tidings of invisible things;
Of ebb and flow, and ever-during power;
And central peace, subsisting at the heart
Of endless agitation.

Love in the Asylum

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on January 2, 2018 by telescoper

A stranger has come
To share my room in the house not right in the head,
A girl mad as birds

Bolting the night of the door with her arm her plume.
Strait in the mazed bed
She deludes the heaven-proof house with entering clouds

Yet she deludes with walking the nightmarish room,
At large as the dead,
Or rides the imagined oceans of the male wards.

She has come possessed
Who admits the delusive light through the bouncing wall,
Possessed by the skies

She sleeps in the narrow trough yet she walks the dust
Yet raves at her will
On the madhouse boards worn thin by my walking tears.

And taken by light in her arms at long and dear last
I may without fail
Suffer the first vision that set fire to the stars.

by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)