2.2 Huxley & Other Critics on Science and Poetry Aldous Huxley, in Literature and Science [New Haven CT: Leete's Island Books,1963], insists that "the purity of scientific language is not the same as the purity of literary language" [p.12], citing Emily Dickenson's "A Light Exists in Spring" [p.20]: A color stands abroad On solitary hills That science cannot overtake, But human nature feels. and also citing William Wordsworth on Isaac Newton [p.41], whose statue "with his prism and silent face" was, for the young poet: The marble index of a mind for ever Voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone. That might almost serve as a definition of Science Fiction Poetry -- "voyaging through strange seas of thought," but Wordsworth went further than Huxley in linking the goals of science and poetry [pp.42-3]: "if the labours of Men of science should ever create any material revolution ... in our condition, and in the impressions which we habitually receive, the Poet will ... be at his side, carrying sensations into the midst of the objects of science itself. The remotest discoveries of the Chemist, the Botanist, or Minerologist will be as proper objects of the Poet's art as any upon which it can be employed..." leaving open only the question of whether or not that revolution has yet occurred. Huxley leaves the door open to Science Fiction Poetry as such in his remark [p.46] that "until very recent times, the creators of Utopias have been abysmally uninventive in the fields of pure and applied science" and his citation [p.53] of Walt Whitman's famous: When I heard the learn'd astronomer, When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me, When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them ... I wander'd off by myself, In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars. and yet Huxley, by excluding Science Fiction Poetry from the canon, believes that [pp.59-60]: "From their writings [the successors of T.S. Eliot] you would be hard put to it to infer the simple historical fact that they are the contemporaries of Einstein and Heisenberg, of computers, electron microscopes, and the discovery of the molecular basis of heredity ... these have hardly found their way into modern poetry.... In the forty years which have elapsed since I first commented on the old subject matter of the new poetry, astonishingly few poems with a scientific reference have been written. Some elegant pieces of neo-metaphysical poetry by William Empson, Kenneth Rexroth's reflective lyric 'Lyell's Hypothesis Again' -- these are the only examples that come, off-hand, to my mind. There must, of course, be others -- but not many of them, I am sure. Of the better poems written ince 1921, the great majority do not so much as hint at the most important fact of contemporary history -- the accelerating progress of science and technology." Here is the mundane bias starkly put: that while only Science Fiction reflects the reality of technological acceleration, it does not include the "better" literature. Science Fiction Poets aim to disprove this, as Huxley seems to urge in his final sentence [p.118]: "let us advance together, men of letters and men of science, further and further into the ever-expanding regions of the unknown." In 1895, Langdon Smith published a remarkable long poem "Evolution" in the Sunday New York Herald, which was widely acclaimed, has been repeatedly anthologized, and the likes of which he never wrote again. It is commonly, but wrongly, thought that Science and Poetry are in opposition. As Robert Graves put it in the science fiction novel Watch the Northwind Rise [Farrar Strauss & Giroux 1949]: "Poetry is not worth buying and selling on a large scale, so the businessman shows no interest in it.... The scientist disregards it because it can't be reduced to mathematical equations and therefore seems to lack a principle." [p.14]. Centuries in the future, Graves' fictional poet Vives writes: Charlatans came forward, Boldly adopting titles Of mathematical virtue. Square Root of Minus One Proclaimed himself a dictator And swelled a private grudge By arithmetical progression Into a mad crusade. Wordsworth contrasts the scientific and humanist spirit: Our meddling intellect Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:-- We murder to dissect. Enough of Science and Art; Close up those barren leaves; Come forth, and bring with you a heart That watches and receives.
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