“There’s a real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality.”
—Evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins, The Enemies of Reason
Science is often perceived as being cold. Hard facts, calculations, graphs, and data analyses all being done by people in white lab coats, wearing glasses, and speaking in language so technical as to be totally foreign to the vast majority of people.
But for many of us, this writer included, science is poetic.
Let’s look at it from a different angle. For those of us lucky enough to have had a passionate teacher—and I’d wager that’s most of us at some point in our education—we remember that there was a look in their eyes and an edge to their voice when they expounded upon their favorite topics that excited everyone around them. Oftentimes, these teachers became our favorites, and we found their courses easy because their passion was infectious.
Similarly, scientists dive into an area of interest trying to find out everything they can; it’s not uncommon to find a scientist who spends their whole life researching just one topic. They are intense in their pursuit to understand. And if you ask them about their topic of passion, you will light a flame that roars to life and burns with an intensity of all-consuming excitement in being able to share what has so captured their attention and evoked their amazement.
It should come as no surprise, then, that descriptions from a passionate scientist often become poetic. After all, what is poetry if not the verbal expression of passion? As educators, encouraging our students to go deep into science can not only spark their passion and engagement, but also open up avenues for their creativity through artistic expression.
Here are a few of my favorite scientists’ writings and quotes that I would call poetic:
Naturalist John Muir on His Study of Glaciers
"The path of the vanished glacier was warm now, and shone in many places as if washed with silver. The tall pines growing on the moraines stood transfigured in the glowing light, the poplar groves on the levels of the basin were masses of orange-yellow, and the late blooming goldenrods added gold to gold. Pushing on over my rosy glacial highway, I passed lake after lake set in solid basins of granite, and many a thicket and meadow watered by a stream that issues from the amphitheater and links the lakes together; now wading through plushy bogs knee-deep in yellow and purple sphagnum; now passing over bare rock. . . . The sun gave birth to a network of sweet-voiced rills that ran gracefully down the glacier, curling and swirling in their shining channels, and cutting clear sections through the porous surface-ice into the solid blue, where the structure of the glacier was beautifully illustrated."