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This review is taken from PN Review 43, Volume 11 Number 5, May - June 1985.

FAIR SCIENCE FROWNED NOT ON HIS HUMBLE BIRTH Poems of Science, edited by John Heath-Stubbs and Phillipps Salman (Penguin) £4.95
The Naked Astronaut, edited by René Grazini (Faber) £4.95

With a few exceptions scientists and literary men have not felt very easy in each other's company; C.P. Snow regretted the fact, Leavis's retort to him seemed to imply that he obscurely rejoiced in it; Yvor Winters said that university teachers of literature tended to be held in some contempt by members of other faculties; Auden summed up the twentieth-century poet's sombre sense that he is backing a losing horse by remarking that when among scientists he felt like a shabby curate among bishops. The reader of John Heath-Stubbs' and Phillips Salman's Poems of Science soon realizes that the relationship has never been very amicable, but it has at least been more various than the present defensiveness and derision imply. The heyday of good relations between the two, as of so much else that is interesting and fruitful in the British literary tradition, was the hundred years or so between say Shakespeare and Dryden. Before this period poets were rather condescendingly superior about mechanistic explanations of the material world (this anthology includes a pleasant bit of Chaucer on sound waves, but as he himself insouciantly says of his theory 'Take yt in ernest or in game' - the other pre-Shakespearian snippets hardly merit the description 'scientific'; the excerpt from Spenser's Faerie Queene is about as scientific as Tolkien's hobbit). After Dryden's death shades of the material prison house begin to close in and poets clearly start to feel that their whole raison d'être is threatened by the scientists' apparent ...


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