James Clerk Maxwell

(13 June 1831 – 5 November 1879 / Edinburgh, Scotland)

To F.W.F. - Poem by James Clerk Maxwell

Farrar, when o’er Goodwin’s page
Late I found thee poring,
From the hydrostatic Sage
Leaky Memory storing,
Or when groaning yesterday
Needlessly distracted
By some bright erratic ray,
Through a sphere refracted,—

Then the quick words, oft suppressed,
In my fauces fluttered;
Thoughts not yet in language drest
Pleasing to be uttered.
He that neatly gilds the pill
Hides the drug but vainly,
So, in chance-sown words, I will
Speak the matter plainly.

Men there are, whose patient minds,
In one object centred,
Wait, till through their darkened blinds
Truth has burst and entered.
Then, that ray so barely caught
Joyfully absorbing,
They behold the realms of Thought
Into Science orbing.

Thus they wait, and thus they toil,
Thus they end in knowing,
Like good seed in kindly soil
Taking root and growing.
Men there are whose ambient souls,
In rapt Intuition,
Seize Creation as it rolls,
Whole, without partition.

Not for them the darkened room,
Lens, and perforation;
Enemies are they to gloom,
Foes to Insulation.
Theirs the light of perfect Day,
Theirs the sense of Freedom;
Dungeons, and the tortured ray,
Serve for those that need ’em.

Song to them of right belongs,
Eloquently flowing;
Sweeping down time-honoured wrongs,
Surging, burning, glowing.
Songs in which all hearts rejoice,
Songs of ancient story;
Songs that fill a People’s voice
Marching on to glory.

Thus they live, and thus they love,
Thus they soar in singing;
Like glad larks in heaven above,
Dazzling courses winging.—
Here, I prithee, turn thy mind
To a little fable
Of the fledged and rooted kind,
Bird and vegetable.

Pensive in his lowly nest
Once a Lark was lying;
Often did he heave his breast
Querulously sighing.
For he saw with envious eyes,
Pampered vegetation—
Cabbages of goodly size,
Swoll’n with emulation.

Till their self-infolded green
Tight crammed, wide distended,
Seemed in sphered pomp to mean
All that it pretended.
Long he sought to win their place
In the Gardener's favour;
Well he caught the silent grace
Of a plant’s behaviour.

All was useless, he confest,
Earth for him unsuited;
Terror seized upon him, lest
He should there be rooted.
"Cabbages are cabbages,
Larks are larks," he muttered;
Then, light springing in the breeze,
Through the sky he fluttered.

Farrar, mark my fable well,
Fling away Ambition;
By that sin the angels fell
Into black perdition.
Cut the Calculus, and stop
Paths that lead to error;
Think—below the Junior Op.,
Gapes the Gulph's grim terror.

Then your Mathematic wings,
Plucked from off your shoulder,
Will express what Horace sings
Of that rash youth, bolder
Than his waxen wings allowed,
Or his cautious father.
Fall not thou from out thy cloud
Algebraic, rather

Try the Poll, for none but fools,-—
Fools, I mean, at College,
Reach the earth between two stools,
Triposes of Knowledge.
Better in poetic rage
Sing, through heaven soaring,
Than disfigure Goodwin’s page
By incessant poring.


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Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003



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