Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/556

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546
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

DISCUSSION AND CORRESPONDENCE.

POETRY AND SCIENCE.

In spite of the occasional croak of prophets of evil, poetry is not in danger of being crowded out of the hearts of men by the materialism of science. It is true that just now there are no poets of surpassing genius with whom the reading public is popularly acquainted. It is true that the development of our material civilization through the surprisingly rapid advance of scientific discovery is a thing which engages attention to a very great degree. It is true that the necessity of dealing continually with practical, matter-of-fact details, whether of the office, or the factory, or the laboratory, is not in itself distinctly poetical. It is true that planning practical uses for the Röntgen rays or liquid air is not essentially stimulating to a love for poetry, but this is only one aspect of the case.

A great deal of the appeal of poetry comes through what it suggests of the unknown and mysterious, suggestions, not of the strange and the fanciful, but of the beautiful, hints of a something beyond the beauty to which our eyes have yet come, a beauty to which, perhaps, for all our longing, they may never come. A man for whom the problems of existence have ceased to be problems, a man whose theology is a settled thing, who believes certain things definitely and rests with assured ease in his belief, a man for whom the vague anticipations of a world of doubt as yet beyond his ken "make no purple in the distance," such a man can neither have appreciation for a wide range of poetry, nor will he write verse that can take any serious place as poetry for modern readers. The poetry of a primitive people, dealing with primitive emotions, finds in more elementary things, like the boy in Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality," hints and suggestions of a "something that is gone," "the glory and the freshness of a dream." These emotions become our emotions sympathetically, and not because they are quite the normal feelings for the mature reader of poetry to-day. The things that were a wonder to the Greek of Homer's time have ceased to be a wonder to us, and if a poet would excite the same feelings in us he must employ other means. Science, in giving us absolute knowledge in regard to many things which not so long ago were full of strangeness for us, has taken out of them the olden poetry and the trees have nymphs that direct their growth no longer, the streams that were once dæmon-haunted are now merely water courses, and the other spirits of the earth and air have gone far away into the world's forgetfulness. But while we have been pushing out into the unknown and annexing portions of it to the region of the known, we have been merely enlarging the boundary, not obliterating it. More than this man never can do. Always beyond the farthest vision of his telescope and microscope will lie the unknowable, growing smaller, perhaps, but seeming larger as it gives up some of its secret places for the inhabiting of the dwellers in the known. And this is the significant thing, that, as our knowledge grows, our sense of what lies beyond that knowledge finds an increasing number of things that may excite wonder. Every new scientific discovery, at least in certain departments of science, simply acts as an index finger pointing the way to related phenomena not yet understood. And so it will be ever. The most learned man that the schools, and the fields and the sky aided by the finest instruments human skill can devise, can produce, will only find himself awed by the vast