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Short poem

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)

Molecular Evolution

              1At quite uncertain times and places,
              2    The atoms left their heavenly path,
              3And by fortuitous embraces,
              4    Engendered all that being hath.
              5And though they seem to cling together,
              6    And form "associations" here,
              7Yet, soon or late, they burst their tether,
              8    And through the depths of space career.

              9So we who sat, oppressed with science,
            10    As British asses, wise and grave,
            11Are now transformed to wild Red Lions,
            12    As round our prey we ramp and rave.
            13Thus, by a swift metamorphosis,
            14    Wisdom turns wit, and science joke,
            15Nonsense is incense to our noses,
            16    For when Red Lions speak, they smoke.

            17Hail, Nonsense! dry nurse of Red Lions,
            18    From thee the wise their wisdom learn,
            19From thee they cull those truths of science,
            20    Which into thee again they turn.
            21What combinations of ideas,
            22    Nonsense alone can wisely form!
            23What sage has half the power that she has,
            24    To take the towers of Truth by storm?

            25Yield, then, ye rules of rigid reason!
            26    Dissolve, thou too, too solid sense!
            27Melt into nonsense for a season,
            28    Then in some nobler form condense.
            29Soon, all too soon, the chilly morning,
            30    This flow of soul will crystallize,
            31Then those who Nonsense now are scorning,
            32    May learn, too late, where wisdom lies.


11] "The `Red Lions' are a club formed by Members of the British Association, to meet for relaxation after the graver labours of the day." (Note by Campbell.)

17] "Leonum arida nutrix." -- Horace. (Note by Campbell.)

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Lewis Campbell, The Life of James Clerk Maxwell, with a selection from his correspondence and occasional writings and a sketch of his contributions to science (London: Macmillan, 1882): 637-38. QC 16 M4C3 Gerstein Library
First publication date: 1882
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2001
Recent editing: 1:2002/10/5

Composition date: 1874
Composition date note: In Belfast
Rhyme: ababcdcd

Other poems by James Clerk Maxwell