Poetry serves democracy: When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home…

Perhaps the most delightful side effect of educating one’s own children at home is the constant opportunity to discover and rediscover the vast riches of all the learning the world has to offer.

Case in point: a poem by Lord Byron.

When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home,
Let him combat for that of his neighbours;
Let him think of the glories of Greece and of Rome,
And get knock’d on the head for his labours.
To do good to mankind is the chivalrous plan,
And, is always as nobly requited; 
Then battle for freedom wherever you can,
And, if not shot or hang’d, you’ll get knighted. 

If you read it aloud, you might be put in mind of limericks. That’s because the meter is anapestic,* of course, though the rhyme scheme here differs from that of a limerick.

duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH

Extra credit if you know how many feet are in each line of verse…

Textbooks including Poetry & Humanity by Michael Clay Thompson from Royal Fireworks PressI’m grateful to the skilled teacher, Michael Clay Thompson, who wrote the multi-level language arts curriculum published by Royal Fireworks Press that I’ve used with my son for about eight years now. My own appreciation for and knowledge of grammar has grown alongside my son’s, and many of the poems included therein have become family favorites.

Lord Byron’s cheeky, even snarky, goad to action on behalf of human freedom is both a pleasure to read aloud and a timely reminder to do my part for democracy as people worldwide withdraw into petty nationalism while human unity fractures.

Here’s hoping my reward is to be nobly requited. That sounds much better than the alternative.

*Anapest. You know! The opposite of a dactyl. If I learned these details in school, I’ve long since forgotten them, but the poetics study included at every level of MCT’s language arts program is often my very favorite part. It doesn’t so much demand that we memorize these obscure terms as make us want to by showing us both the breadth and depth of what’s beautiful in the construction of our mother tongue.

Does poetry offer the best analogy for humanity’s greatest scientific breakthroughs?

In the novel The Robots of Dawn, third in Isaac Asimov’s Robot trilogy, a preeminent scientist, the best on his or any other world in his field, says:

“You know it always bothers some of my colleagues when I tell them that, if a conclusion is not poetically balanced, it cannot be scientifically true. They tell me they don’t know what that means.”

Baley said, “I’m afraid I don’t, either.”book Asimov Robot novels - 1

“But I know what it means, I can’t explain it, but I feel the explanation without being able to put it into words, which may be why I have achieved results my colleagues have not. …”

I made note of the quote as I re-read this classic novel last week because it echoes so closely something I myself have struggled to put into words for my entire adult life.

As a teenager, I chose the identical comparison for explaining my delight with certain physics experiments:

[The experiment’s demonstration of the concept] is so perfect. It just sings. It’s like poetry.

I know I’ve repeated the phrase, “it’s like poetry,” many times in conversation about great ideas. I have yet to find a better expression for “the intuitive sense of the rightness” of a theory. It’s definitely something to do with harmony and balance.

Having devoured Asimov’s Robot novels in middle school*, it is now obvious to me that I’d read the quote with which I began this post well before I myself used the poetry simile. I’m now begging the question, did I get this idea from Asimov, leaving it to quietly percolate for another half dozen or so years before I re-expressed it, taking a distant memory for my own idea?

Or is this notion a truth, existing in the intellectual universe, waiting to be uncovered by one likely mind after another?

Does anyone else find herself using this expression to express a certain balanced perfection in knowledge?**

If you do, did you also read Asimov at a formative age?

Is poetry as distillation of language from the prosaic to the artistic a fundamentally apt metaphor for great leaps in scientific discovery and the expression thereof, or does the comparison only resonate with creative writers? Pardon me, please, for lumping my humble efforts with the greatness of Asimov in this respect!

Finally, as an aside, I want to shout to the world that the Robot series holds up well for revisiting decades after their impressive effect on a young reader. Asimov was a genius, and these books remain a fantastic diversion.

*roughly age 12

**Here’s a person writing about science and poetry in a literary journal. She maintains that the disciplines aren’t mutually exclusive, though they might seem so to less perceptive thinkers. A search also shows me that someone once had an e-zine at poetryandscience.com, but the link appears to be broken so I can only wonder at what took place there.