This chapter returns to the thesis that was offered in the Introduction, and asks to what extent it has provided a tentative explanation as to why the scientists who feature in this book wrote poetry. For all of these scientists, their ability to embrace both science and poetry gave them an aptitude to better consider the scale of what they sought to achieve. Yet despite their numerous successes in both fields, this chapter concludes that one thing that unites all of the poetic scientists in this book is that at various points in their lives, external forces wanted them to choose between either science or poetry. The chapter finishes by considering meaningful interdisciplinary collaborations between poetry and science and the role that both can play in making sense of the world in which we live.
Chapter 4 focuses on the giving and receiving of promises and speech acts. Reading The Franklin’s Tale and The Manciple’s Tale from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, it asks what kind of obligations and responses are engaged by promising and other performatives, and how gender and genre make a difference to the effects of these linguistic acts. In The Franklin’s Tale, a potential sex triangle is resolved happily through the protagonists’ generosities of body, word and coin. The Manciple’s Tale, by contrast, has a darker narrative patterning whose reciprocal gestures are destructive, and whose final warnings are of the dangers of giving and telling. Both tales represent the spoken or written word as an unpredictable object, whose meanings and return value may be initiated but not finally contained by its speaker or author.
The gift of narrative in medieval England places medieval narratives – especially romances – in dialogue with theories and practices of gift and exchange. It argues that the dynamics of the gift are powerfully at work in these texts: through exchanges of objects and people; repeated patterns of love, loyalty and revenge; promises made or broken; and the complex effects that time works on such objects, exchanges and promises. The book ranges widely, from the twelfth-century Romance of Horn and English versions of the Horn story to the romances of the Auchinleck Manuscript, and from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to Geoffrey Chaucer and John Lydgate. In reading these texts alongside some of the debates about giving and receiving that radiate from Anthropology and critical theory, Nicholas Perkins asks a number of questions: What role does the circulation of things play in creating narratives? Do romance protagonists themselves act as exchanged objects, and what difference does gender make to how they navigate networks of obligation and agency? Is storytelling a form of gift-giving? Do linguistic exchanges such as promises operate like gifts? How do medieval stories place obligations on the audiences who listen to them or, perhaps, receive a manuscript copy as a precious gift? Bringing together literary studies, Anthropology and material practice in an invigorating way, this book encourages close attention to the dynamics and pleasures of the gift in narrative.
This chapter pays detailed attention to a major but little-studied poem of the twelfth century: The Romance of Horn. It reads the many gifts, obligations and exchanges in the text through ongoing debates about the nature of gift-giving: for example, whether a spirit or surplus is generated in the act of giving, and how an individual gift relates to larger structures of reciprocity in society. It argues that in The Romance of Horn, the eponymous hero acts as a gift to the story: arriving as if unmotivated, before revealing the narrative’s prior commitments, debts and patterns of reward and revenge. It also suggests that the act of storytelling, both inside the text and of the text itself, shares these attributes of the gift. The chapter also analyses two English versions of the Horn legend, comparing their treatment of the dynamics of gift and exchange with The Romance of Horn.
This chapter provides a detailed argument as to why A sonnet to science considers previous demarcations between science and poetry, such as those proposed by Edgar Allan Poe and Aristotle, to be incorrect. In presenting these arguments, this chapter also reveals the inspiration for researching and writing the book, and outlines the methodology that is adopted throughout, including the rationale for choosing the six scientists on which A sonnet to science is primarily focused. Finally, this chapter discusses how A sonnet to science complements some of the other books that examine the nature of science and poetry.
The Introduction sets the book in the context of medieval literary studies, theories of the gift, and scholarship on exchange in medieval society. It summarizes each chapter and sets up the argument of the book.
This chapter focuses on one of the major surviving collections of Middle English romances: the Auchinleck Manuscript. It investigates the movement and value of objects in Horn Childe and Maiden Rimnild, Amis and Amiloun, Tristrem and Orfeo. These objects have their own narrative trajectories, and operate as events themselves, as scholars of material culture have suggested. In dialogue with Annette Weiner’s work on inalienable objects, the chapter explores how precious objects in romance also embody personal relationships and the values suggested by keeping as well as giving. Finally, it analyses Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, showing how Gawain acts both as an object of exchange and a participant in exchange who must judge what should and should not be given, and exploring how the poem harnesses the dangerous surplus of narrative that is inscribed in its hero.
This chapter investigates the extent to which poetry influenced the life and work of one of the most important scientists of the nineteenth century: James Clerk Maxwell. In deriving what have become known as the ‘Maxwell Equations’, Maxwell summarised all previous understanding of electricity and magnetism, and in doing so revealed new insights that have since greatly benefited both scientific research and discovery. This chapter presents the argument that in reading Maxwell’s poetry, we likewise observe an intellect and wit that expressed complex and multifaceted thoughts in clear and succinct verse, including, but not limited to, an erudite warning about the dangers presented by scientific materialism such as that of the physicist John Tyndall.
This chapter presents an overview of the life and scientific accomplishments of Ronald Ross, recipient of the 1902 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in discovering the link between malaria and mosquitoes. In addition to his work as a physician and medical researcher, Ross was also a vivacious writer; many of his scientific achievements are captured in poetic verse, and from his writings it is clear that he viewed science and poetry as two sides of the same coin, and that for him one could simply not exist without the other. This chapter also investigates the controversies that accompanied Ross’s work on malaria, and demonstrates how some of his poetry highlights his reluctance to fully acknowledge the work and influence of others.