Quantum poetics


Writing about space is difficult. Since the time of Lucretius, poetry has taken science – investigations of nature – as part of its legitimate subject matter. Dante used medieval cosmography, Chaucer was well versed in astrology, alchemy, medicine and physiognomy. Milton and Donne had complicated reactions to the drastic realignments inherent in Copernican theory and Galilean astronomy. When Newton (partially) revealed the workings of the universe, Alexander Pope led the cheerleaders: “Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night: / God said, ‘Let Newton be!’ and all was light.”

Now, post-Darwin, post-Einstein, post-Hawking, the questions multiply like cells and come from every direction: relativity theory, quantum mechanics, neuroscience, genetics, astrophysics … The “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of religion continues and science is, for many, the main entrance to the universe. Though you can refuse to go in, of course. Yeats did, and took to superstition.

In recent times, the great science-poet was Miroslav Holub, a leading Czech immunologist who died in 1998. Often humorous and bleak, he mixed an eastern European deadpan surrealism with medicine, mathematics, philosophy.

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