Happy Friday! Today's poem in honor of National Poetry Month is from ThermoPoetics: Energy in Victorian Literature and Science by Barri J. Gold.
Report on Tait’s Lecture on Force:—B.A., 1876
James Clerk Maxwell
Ye British Asses, who expect to hear
Ever some new thing,
I’ve nothing to tell, but what, I fear,
May be a true thing.
For Tait comes with his plummet and his line,
Quick to detect your
Old bosh new dressed in what you call a fine
Whence comes that most peculiar smattering,
Heard in our section?
Pure nonsense, to a scientific swing
Drilled to perfection?
That small word “Force,” they make a barber’s block,
Ready to put on
Meanings most strange and various, fit to shock
Pupils of Newton.
Ancient and foreign ignorance they throw
Into the bargain;
The shade of Leibnitz mutters from below
The phrases of the last century in this
Linger to play tricks—
Vis Viva and Vis Mortua and Vis
Those long-nebbed words that to our text books still
Cling by their titles,
And from them creep, as entozoan will,
Into our vitals.
But see! Tait writes in lucid symbols clear
One small equation;
And Force becomes of Energy a mere
Force, then, is Force, but mark you! not a thing,
Only a Vector;
Thy barbèd arrows now have lost their sting,
Thy reign, O Force! is over. Now no more
Heed we thine action;
Repulsion leaves where we were before,
So does attraction.
Both Action and Reaction now are gone.
Just ere they vanished,
Stress joined their hands in peace, and made them one;
Then they were banished.
The Universe is free from pole to pole,
Free from all forces.
Rejoice! ye stars—like blessed gods ye roll
On in your courses.
No more the arrows of the Wrangler race,
Piercing shall wound you.
Forces no more, those symbols of disgrace,
Dare to surround you:
But those whose statements baffle all attacks,
Safe by evasion,—
Whose definitions, like a nose of wax,
Suit each occasion,—
Whose unreflected rainbow far surpassed
All our inventions,
Whose very energy appears at last
Scant of dimensions:—
Are these the gods in whom ye put your trust,
Lordlings and ladies?
The hidden potency of cosmic dust
Drives them to Hades.
While you, brave Tait! who know so well the way
Forces to scatter,
Calmly await the slow but sure decay,
Even of Matter.