Nature & Science notes

‘… it seemed perfectly appropriate for scientists to love and revere nature and to approach it sympathetically rather than otherwise. It also seemed fitting to continue to use – as Luncretius did – the traditional imagery that spoke of it as female, a bounteous mother. It must be repeated that this way of thinking was still not in itself superstitious (though it could obviously be used superstitiously) since the forces involved were seen as entirely natural, not as supernatural or occult. Johannes Kepler, who took this idea of natural magic very seriously, was following it when he proposed his theory of gravitational attraction and in particular when he used it to explain the tides…Highly emotive Baconian hostile imagery about nature was counted as scientific and therefore belonging to the language of Reason, while affectionate and respectful imagery such as Ficino used was dismissed as mere sentiment. This ruling still persists and acconts for the fact that no Western scientists after Kepler’s time could ever dare use terms such as love for forces of attraction, though today equally anthropormorphic – but hostile – words such as spite, cheat, selfish and grudging are the accepted coin of sociobiological discourse. The rise and long survival of this feud between two ways of regarding nature has been a serious and lasting misfortune... the question of emotional attitudes to nature is deeply relevant to the way people regard science…In this way the conception of nature as an enemy to be crushed by an embattled, all conquering, anti-natural science was built into the idea of scientific ‘omnicompetence’ from the beginning and it worked there vigorously throughout the Enlightenment.’ Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

If it is not love

What is this feeling towards the swollen Sun -

bulging gold with the light of a whole summer,

membraneous round globe slung low by a wine-red cloud;

one touch to her yolk, she will pour forth on broken water.

What moves the heart to lurch at the Chinese sight

of a hunchback cormorant fishing in salmon blood;

a melancholic curlew picking snobbishly among

mother-of-pearl - when he sings, every sad thing

sweetens my mind; what shared disturbance of nerves

with a golden hare rocking nervously across a burned

orange field, scattering nurseries of laughing rabbits,

twitching air for a smidgeon of fox, eagle, lost wolf -  

if it is not love,

if it is not love.

What is this thrill in the evening heart

at first blurred owl called by first star

into milky light - his weird throating call

half from another always-twilight world;

moon-flashed eyes as soft night hardens

blue to black - to glittering complexion.

What sympathy with the red screams

of mice; hypnosis of the dancing fox,

mesmerising slinky stoats - a co-incidental

rustling moonlit ruffle of snuffling badgers,

twinkling hedgehogs - flickering bats

under a strobing Moon; high bravura

performance of sky theatre.

What sews our old blood?

What startle in our creature eyes -

what silence stops our own hearts,

if it is not love,

if it is not love.

When light flowers in the morning sky -

and each bloom has cupped a silver drop

in opening eyes like a single tear -

mercury memorial for each creature

which died that night for life;

a small bird sing silver notes

solely for the natural art of song;

just because it’s another morning.

Earth is a breathing black mouth

where green tongues speak secret

chemistries of dark, water, seed and light;

when I touch the rose’s pink human skin -

bending, kiss her perfumed lips -

what is this light seen in my eyes,

if it is not love,

if it is not love.

‘…it was not, however, the Romantics who invented this alarming picture of science as a crude… aggressor, that picture came from the first champions and populisers of modern science themselves – from the men of the Royal Society and above all from that arch populiser and cultural hero of the moment, Francis Bacon… It is notorious that Bacon regularly described scientific activity in oddly savage imagery, incorporating violent conquest as a central part of his original myth of sicentific supremacy. This rhetoric has shaped later conceptions of science profoundly. Bacon repeatedly insisted that the aim of the new science must not be just to “exert a gentle guidance over Nature’s course” but “to conquer and subdue her, to shake her to her foundations…” That victory would inaugurate something that he strangely called a “truly masculine birth of time”, a new epoch which would subdue “Nature with all her children, to bind her to your service and make her your slave”.’ Mary  Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

‘Men are taught and wont to attribute stupendous and accountable effects to sympathy, antipathy, fuga vacui, substantial forms and especially to a certain being… which they call nature, for this is represented as a kind of goddess, whose power may be little less than boundless… the veneration wherewith men are imbued for what they call nature has been a discouraging impediment to the empire of man over the inferior creatures of God.’ Robert Boyle, The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle, 1722

Empire of man over the inferior creatures of God

I know you are a woman under there - Pagan, wanton -

all that imprudent birth, those endless pointless species;

just so you can create more and more mightier forces

to contest the domination of mankind - of God’s sons.

And all that decoration, show; those immodest blooms,

flaunted on naked leg stems - fanciful colours and frills,

could only have been made by some frivolous female -

beauty set above the need for duty, sobriety, a sense of

propriety. For you are immodest, madam –

all this mating in unblessed immoral union;

disgraceful rabbits - unbridled pigs -

scandalous frogs, outrageous horses;

only swans aspire to holy matrimony,

collar doves - far too few in any case.

Even these flowers to which you so delicately tend,

lay open their private organs for bees and all to see -

pigeons puffing and cooing on my very lawn;

have you no proper sense of decorum ma’am?

This will be a respectable society, a time of men;

like all women you must be subdued, laid low - 

the female brain not suited to wielding of any power -

while my brothers whimper at your storms and temper,

I know, madam, how your fickle will I shall subdue;

bring you to the heels of men, trembling like a dog

fresh-whipped, obedient - that will stop your airs

and graces - your blasphemous claims to divinity.

For men, I tell you, are the superior sex; the seed,

Masters - and you must know your rightful place.

For far too long have you held men in your sway,

calling to you for rain or sun or fish from the sea;

I will subdue you, though it cost me everything -

I will trample you, use you, strip you, abuse you.

I will destroy you before you make me feel small -

until Man is King over Man’s dominion once more;

as God is King: He.

Never Queen - She. 

Obviously female

Woman, mother, goddess; she seemed obviously to be female.

Nature birthing her endless brood - infinite fertility, creativity.

And O, her power unleashed could blot a man clean away;

burn mountains, topple trees, break bones, houses and sky.

How like a man to be aggressive faced with something female,

even Nature herself - maybe even a female aspect of the deity;

who might make him feel inferior. And isn’t that still how it is,

men ultimately often marrying a docile bird who makes his tea.

‘So we see that the parts of the world (for there is nothing in the world which is not a part of the universe as a whole) have sense and reason. So these must be present to a higher and greater degree in that part which provides the organising principle of the whole world. So the universe must be a rational being and the Nature which permeates and embraces all things must be endowed with reason in its highest form. And so God and the world of Nature must be one, and all the life of the world must be contained within the being of God.‘ Cicero

‘I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.’ Frank Lloyd Wright, 1869 – 1959

‘I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.’ Albert Einstein

‘…even after Newton’s dubious reconciliation, the bitterness persisted and it still persists today. It has done a great deal of damage to our wider culture, particularly to the status of science itself, because the conflict between opposite emotional attitudes to nature became merged with the wider polarisation that viewed Feeling and Reason as rival principles waging a war within human life – a war which, until the mid-eighteenth century, Reason was confidently expected to win.’ Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

Nature is God’s love for life

Nature is God’s love for life –

manifest; extant green writing,

word of the flower,

mammal, insect -

written in our old hearts -

the unfinished book of us;

where beauty hangs

on every silver letter,

coloured garment

named Man, Tiger,

Beetle, Lion, Lemur, Leaf -

each one a poem, holy, real.

Where men search for proof of love -

let them look no further than the rose.

‘In calling for a hostile attitude to nature, Bacon was not just urging scientists to drop a casual folk tradition of treating it with respect. He was taking sides in a current dispute within science itself. During the Renaissance, the idea of exploring natural phenomena in terms of sympathies and attractions bewtween various substances within a wider natural system was prevalent among perfectly serious students as well as among sorcerers. These students used the name ‘magic’ in an innocuous, neutral sense for those forces, not implying that they were supernatural but merely that they were mysterious, that their working could not be fully understood…. Studying these forces involved looking at natural systems as larger wholes rather than just as chance assemblies of parts. It also naturally suggested a reverence, gratitude and repsect for the still wider, still more mysterious system of nature that included them all. Equally naturally, it gave rise to the thought that the scientist himself should try to operate as a harmonious element within that enclosing sytems rather than as something alien attacking it… we can see why this identification of science by its self proclaimed champions with an imperialistic attack on nature began, after a time, to cause real alarm not just about new technology, but about science itself… the suspicion naturally arises that (as John Ziman puts it) ‘the evil factor is knowledge itself: science is characterised as a materialistic, anti-human force, a Frankenstein monster out of control.’ Keats and the other romantic poets who protested against the dominant mechanistic ideology were not being irresponsible or insensitive to the beauties of sciece. They did not need to celebrate those beauties because, by the time they arrived on the scene, that celebration had been going on with all stops pulled out for the best part of a century’. Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

How eager are men to strip magic from the world

How eager are men to strip magic from the world;

turn all to ruthless law and mechanism - rendered

in the most reductive language; but the best have seen

that just describing how the petal hinge is so cleverly

constructed, tells nothing of how it feels to see it open

on some glorious morning; how it came from unlikely

seed, from deep black where no hand sowed or tended;

struggled to hatch, operating its own factories - created

itself in crumbs, pressed into air with green molecules -

from water, earth and light learned how to make colour.

Botany gives one description of the flower; a single view,

an aspect, not superior but part - holding the whole flower

in the warm cup of your hand, feeling the soft weight

of her flower body, sharing in her evolved perfume –

recognising the power of seeds already laid down,

their magical encryption, are all part of knowledge

of the flower; all essential to come nearer to knowing her

as floral presence, product of evolution - sharing so many

genes with humans in a radically different disguise of life.

What are they telling us - what new knowledge blossoms;

what name for chemicals swimming in my heart,

when the honeysuckle deigns to rise, louche, lush

from her green evening bed; her seductive powers

loving up the whole garden, evening, for romance.

Science draws attention to the magic of the world

Science does not defeat, but draws attention to the magic

of the world - what holds the stars in fiery patterns, stops

planets falling through the holes of space. What forces -

gases, attractions and decay. What writes genetic scripts;

sublime organic chemistries - what drove the light in water,

powered the honesuckle and the bee, became a dog or man.


How best describe these riches but as magic - in reverential

poetry, the old vocabularies of wonder. Such pleasure stolen

by semantics - what pictures robbed by mean analysis, crude

reductive thinking. What better explanation of the Universal

energy than love. How increased is wonder at a shooting star

by finding out about the shattering mechanics of flying light.  

Described to the last molecule

Described to the last molecule, atom -

the nature of a man would still be lost;

his encryption, Genome, chemistries,

are only part of what it means to live.


The magic of the world will never be undone

by describing how it works; this is the magic,

just as the exhilaration of a mighty waterfall

is not alien to its water molecules and power. 

‘[Richard Dawkins in Unweaving the Rainbow’] wishes that the great Romantics had chosen their themes better. Keats and Yeats, he says, would have improved their performance by drawing topics from science rather than “finding solace in an antiseptic world of classical myths… Did prejudice against reason weigh down the wings of poetry?” As for Wordsworth, Dawkins thinks he ought to have said more about how rainbows actually worked: ‘If Wordsworth had realised all this he might have improved upon, “My heart leaps up when I behold/ A rainbow in the sky”…But these are unavailing regrets… the choice then lay between complacent traditional writers like Erasmus Darwin writing within Baconian scientism, and the great Romantics doing something totally different – something which was, by then, very badly needed.’ Mary  Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

‘Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night,/ God said ‘Let Newton be!’ and all was light.’ Alexander Pope (1688-1744), Epitaph for Newton

We servants of Nature and winged pen,

will never surrender to brute Science -

his dull and trampling ways; arrogance,

lack of vision. He lumbers over hearts -

blinds men’s eyes to everything around,

explained into oblivion, ruined, reduced.

We will help men fly again, grow wings

upon the sight of butterflies and birds -

rise up with us again among the clouds;

there to dream, feel happy - understand.

Master Grim and the Kingfisher

Master Grim, our most esteemed scientist,

fetched himself a kingfisher - that zapped,

poor creature, like a streak of heaven escaped -

straight across his river path; with nets and gas

he choked the living blue, laid out the corpse,

spreadeagled - small blue angel for his blade.

He tore the wings to see how they were made,

how hooked the filaments of feathers - how

painted by old Nature in such surpassing shade;

for nothing can maintain the breath of mystery

when Master Grim, dear sir, gets working at his desk.

Poor man he laboured on through all a summer night,

sweat dripped and plopped upon his bleary script -

so furiously he blotted; mark now, are these tears?

For struggle as he might in company of owls -

he came not one jot the nearer to the formula;

such blue was just not possible within the Spectrum –

butterflies and rainbows he has dissected to applause,

but as this little corpse burned up his last illuminated blue,

Master Grim is forced to say such colour must be ‘painted’

by some art of Nature’s hand, though she does not exist…

Poor man, so flummoxed ‘mid his cluttered mixing trays,

he asks the artist for composition of his vivid pigment -

sky material; will not listen to his words upon the bird,

how it flashes wild o’er river, stream and bank,

thus shatters everything around, as air vibrates.

Master Grim is far too busy with his bowls and blades,

his Lapis lazulae and formulae, his variable light. But,

alas - his aching hands and eyes must tell the truth;

for all his vanity and learning, yet he cannot match 

one feather of a kingfisher’s heavenly wing,

nor explain a stroke of Nature’s truthful art.

‘The fear of science which has been expressed that science may act as ‘a materialistic, anti-human force’ - is not, then, a gratuitous fantasy. It has been a natural response to certain powerful ideas which have long been associated with Western science because they were genuinely professed and linked with it by its early champions - ideas which are still influential and have not yet been explicitly enough disowned. For instance, the association of the notion of science with crazy and irresponsible power-fantasies is still constantly illustrated by a mass of crude science fiction and also by a good deal of actual technology, notably in weaponry. But at the time of the Romantic Revival what discredited it most directly was its associtation with an attitude of fear and contempt for the imagination and for ordinary human feeling.’ Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

I would not bend my knee to any man;

nor suffer subjugation to higher power

that deems to rule my hand by force -

but to the kindly might of Nature

would I surrender everything -

for love and wonder, her domain.

And she should rule the heart

with truth - in best direction -

natural wisdom of all ages past;

in youth perpetual - age sublime -

tends to rocks or fledgling shoots

that raise green tiny wings to fly,

towards new sun this bright spring day -

makes my heart to suffer such sweet jolts

as pass within my breast at swallows bent

on lunatic, quixotic flights; no rules dull

this dancing into air - avian celebration -

free, axiomatic beauty of Nature’s soul.

“…Come forth into the light of things,/ Let Nature be your teacher… One impulse from a vernal wood/ May teach you more of man;/ Of moral evil and of good,/ Than all the sages can…. Sweet is the lore which nature brings;/ Our meddling intellect/ Misshapes the beauteous forms of things;/ - We murder to dissect….Enough of science and of art;/ Close up these barren leaves;/ Come forth, and bring with you a heart/ That watches and receives.’  William Wordsworth, 1770-1850, The Tables Turned

Across the moor

Come walk with me, this morning fine -

Across the moor, among the tall Scots pine;

What wonders will we find upon our way,

In air or ground as wild yellow iris sway -

If but for one brief second should we halt,

No time should pass to Nature fault -

For all around would be her multitude -

Hums, stirrings, breaths, even as we stood;

And if we stood yet on upon the century,

Could not exhaust her works around us play -

Lift but one stone into your palm, my friend -

Witness not on palaces does Nature riches spend,

But in the armour of the woodlouse born

When she herself but young with blood of storm.

Feel moss green-wigged upon the stone,

Her starry cushion by Nature’s patience sewn -

Count grass with me, watch folded seed

Spread wings to catch the wind they need.

What will we say of the purple heather flower,

Where bee on loving bee makes sweet bower -

How come they to be so dependently entwined -

Such one mystery might perplex us ‘til dawn we find.

But do not let us tarry here – first gorse has lit her flame!

Ee’n when the sky is slate her torches Spring proclaim;

Acidic broom is burning yellow holes into the sky,

We feel the swallows’ current and our feet must fly -

No wings we have but fly on fellow creatures’ backs,

On days like these when nothing living can relax -

Blue butterflies have come to charm the air,

Delight us with their dance and wings so fair.

Come now within the wood, keep bright

Within your heart that butterfly delight -

For here the sound of darkness muffles all,

Needles make a deadened blanket as they fall;

We know not quite what creatures lurk about,

Nature of the beast in darkness with black snout,

But stay with me, my friend, and mind your feet,

Hereabouts is also someone we might like to meet,

Where sunlight dapples through relenting trees,

Keen eye the sweetest creature perchance sees -

Look there among the forest’s russet litter,

To rejoice the heart is no sight ever fitter -

A fawn a-lying among the dancing light,

Entirely still, though has us in her sight -

What mighty power enough to tumble hills,

That offers cures to help man’s many ills -

Could make this fawn which lies before our eyes,

Of perfect hue and light - all care before her flies.

She asks for our protection from these abject men,

Who, cursing animals, would put her in cruel pen -

Skin off this dainty spotted coat to analyse

How nature came to make her beautiful disguise;

Enslave such principle of beauty, spirit of her living work,

By Nature drawn and practised from the original murk -

Let us leave her now in peace, sweet creature mild,

And carry on our way, being better reconciled –

For as we journey, talk - discuss, examine, look,

At Nature’s leaves, such samples from her living book,

I feel your heart begins to shift,

Your weary spirits also lift -

You understand, my friend, that though new Science grows,

Not one shoot of learning overshadows what Nature knows;

Why Science then is coming down on thundering hooves?

Destroying - subjugating everything it arrogantly proves?

What place for wonder in these stark bright schemes,

Where stars are plucked as flowers to dissect their beams;

Why tramples Science on the Mother of us all,

Whom men have rightly, centuries past, kept in thrall?

Why raised the hand of Man with piercing spear,

To skewer Nature’s creatures, cause such fear?

When she might sweep them with a single wind,

Who so against her giving soul have sinned;

Obliterate them from the world as hunted deer,

As irritations from her green flanks clear -

Yet does she choose to build that little fawn,

Grow golden food within the heart of corn;

Launch birds and butterflies each Spring renewed,

By air, blue sky and wind so perfectly construed;

This brutal moor she never does neglect,

For every space she treats with love - respect -

Will touch the very rock laid bare,

With lichen at her fingertips, with life right spare;

In shadows will she plot for moments rare of light,

In nests and eggs writes ancient formulae for flight.

Not one ounce of praise or thanks does she expect -

No blood, prostration, worship, cult, the heart infect,

So let her be, put down your awful swords absurd;

For Nature, far more learned, will have last word.

How long since I have seen the sky

How long since I have seen a navy sky nude,

sneezed all over with peppered silver stars -

crushed dust of a Godly nature, infinitely

shining - possibility beyond organic time

written in tempestuous space materials,

as dying monuments of historical light,

unscripted with life; just solitary burning

words, wild about nothing - meaningless.

What greater thoughts are lost

when we are blind to night -

thinking now of blue Earth in space,

with my white hand outstretched -

a star that fell to flesh,

bird skeleton spanned,

flown across the expanding firmament -

pinching just one star in gigantic fingers

like a sparkling grain of rice - would you

believe that one day a billion bellies could

be fed from this; numberless lives spawned.

You can land whole prickling galaxies upon

your open palm, hot as blown sand granules,

freezing as a clutch of freaky summer hail -

enclosed within your fist, illuminating blood,

feeling the spiral blurring of the Milky Way -

whirring like a rescued moth,

irritable with dancing energy.

You breathe out moistly, touching warm lips

like a gambler blessing dice - and soon your

breath is melting ice, creating water, calming

molten rock to earth; already you are smiling,

as you experience the thrill of first bacteria -

imagining all their poetic, fantastical dreams.

‘Do not all charms fly/ At the mere touch of cold philosophy?/ There was an awful rainbow once in Heaven:/ We know her woof, her texture: she is given/ In the dull catalogue of common things./ Philosophy will clip an angel’s wings,/ Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,/ Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine -/ Unweave a rainbow…’ John Keats, Lamia, part 2

‘This careful, self protective deadening of the feelings under the banner of rationality and science was Keats’ target in the lines from Lamia…The whole spirit of the age was ready to say, with Wordswrth, “Sweet is the lore which Nature brings…’ and the need to say this has certainly not gone away today. People who now – rightly – want to break the association of inhumanity with science cannot just blame the poets for it. They need to acknowledge the influence that inhumane ideas have actually had on the scientific ethos and get rid of them.’ Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

Romantic Revival 2

Just gloves spun by a previous age -

these cold precise hands of Science;

pulled on unthinkingly by new generations

as appropriate dress - bloodless, unfeeling,

not allowing the proper touch of things;

fingertips to matter’s dancing mystery.

Such simple questions still unanswered -

‘What is consciousness, this spirit notion

so powerfully felt?’ Where is the heart

of the metaphor - in what material root,

or substance of imperceptible composition.

The rainbow is far more overpowering as

art of refraction, exhibiting white’s true nature -

colours revealed in synthesis with observing eye;

plus thrilling apparition, tinctured with legend,

stories, a holy covenant - with gold at the end;

and a bonus, pleasing emblematic shape,

so easily reproduced, recalled by a child.

And what name are they calling glory

which accompanies the stalking tiger;

informs his burning pattern, striped presence

under chameleon orange sun, black shadows.

So much has the old green world survived,

shivering off generations of insectal men -

doing her best from the first hot atom,

stardust and gas - learning Evolution

as continuous lesson and art

in four billion creative years;

to live in the hours of her destruction

is far more than most of us can bear -

feeling life’s one spirit pressing - urgent,

at the temple of the mind, knocking bone;

even as the Genome shows her net of lights

as very symbol - nexus of beauty and truth;

principle of simplicity and complexity

as one - Nature’s organic, evolving art.

Even as we are demonstrated as kin,

so intimately linked in composition,

structure, means of being; as humblest

on Earth - brother of worm and mouse.

This is our story beyond the facts;

layers and threads attaching us -

our explanation of ourselves

must be thus sophisticated -

not worship at Nature’s green altar,

where all is celebration, even death;

but devotion, dedication to shared

inheritance - to our living context;

Earth, from where all sprang

by whatever means believed,

binding us to the fate of the tiger,

whose flames burn in our dreams.

‘This kind of confidence, generated by the industrial revolution, seemed for a long time to be a mere dictate of rationality, a simple correction of the earlier awe and respect for nature which now appeared primitive and superstitious. That is why we now find it so hard to take in the evidence that there was an enormous factual mistake here. For three centures we had been encouraged to consider the earth simply as an inert and bottomless larder stocked for our needs. To be forced to suspect now that it is instead a living system, a system on whose continued activity we are dependent, a system which is vulnerable and capable of failing, is extremely unnerving. Yet the damage already done undoubtedly shows that this is so.’ Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

Note from the author
exploring the project

    Gene Zoo
    Gene Garden
    Earth Poems
        Mass Extinction
        Nature & Science notes
        Goddess Visions

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