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This article is taken from PN Review 19, Volume 7 Number 5, May - June 1981.

The North-West Passage Idris Parry

IT would be interesting to know how many of the benefits we enjoy from applied science are derived from accidental discovery. And how many of the great names of science are great because they found what they weren't looking for. Scientists are methodical, their business is definition, but they are not only concerned to define what is already known; their first aim is to know what we cannot yet define. This is discovery. The new is necessarily outside our schemes and must be found by inspired accident, if accident is that which we can't yet explain or connect. This is the thought behind Laurence Sterne's famous confession that he begins a book by writing the first sentence and trusting to Almighty God for the second. Such writing is a confident action into the unknown. There is a particular art (and science) in capturing the unexpected, in writing with one's own hand the second sentence which nobody has ever seen before.

If we can use 'poetry' to mean what the Germans call 'Dich-tung'-that is, imaginative literature of whatever category-the difference between poetry and history is that poetry makes the ridiculous seem true, while history makes the truth seem ridiculous. Poetry picks up the ridiculous left by history, or real life, or unreal life . . . How do we define it when there are so many loose ends? It can be defined only by poetry, and this is the reason for the existence of poetry, for our human ...

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