James Clerk Maxwell

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

To The Chief Musician Upon Nabla: A Tyndallic Ode - Poem by James Clerk Maxwell

I.

I come from fields of fractured ice,
Whose wounds are cured by squeezing,
Melting they cool, but in a trice,
Get warm again by freezing.
Here, in the frosty air, the sprays
With fernlike hoar-frost bristle,
There, liquid stars their watery rays
Shoot through the solid crystal.


II.

I come from empyrean fires --
From microscopic spaces,
Where molecules with fierce desires,
Shiver in hot embraces.
The atoms clash, the spectra flash,
Projected on the screen,
The double D, magnesian b,
And Thallium's living green.


III.

We place our eye where these dark rays
Unite in this dark focus,
Right on the source of power we gaze,
Without a screen to cloak us.
Then where the eye was placed at first,
We place a disc of platinum,
It glows, it puckers! will it burst?
How ever shall we flatten him!


IV.

This crystal tube the electric ray
Shows optically clean,
No dust or haze within, but stay!
All has not yet been seen.
What gleams are these of heavenly blue?
What air-drawn form appearing,
What mystic fish, that, ghostlike, through
The empty space is steering?


V.

I light this sympathetic flame,
My faintest wish that answers,
I sing, it sweetly sings the same,
It dances with the dancers.
I shout, I whistle, clap my hands,
And stamp upon the platform,
The flame responds to my commands,
In this form and in that form.


VI.

What means that thrilling, drilling scream,
Protect me! 'tis the siren:
Her heart is fire, her breath is steam,
Her larynx is of iron.
Sun! dart thy beams! in tepid streams,
Rise, viewless exhalations!
And lap me round, that no rude sound
May max my meditations.


VII.

Here let me pause. -- These transient facts,
These fugitive impressions,
Must be transformed by mental acts,
To permanent possessions.
Then summon up your grasp of mind,
Your fancy scientific,
Till sights and sounds with thought combined,
Become of truth prolific.


VIII.

Go to! prepare your mental bricks,
Fetch them from every quarter,
Firm on the sand your basement fix
With best sensation mortar.
The top shall rise to heaven on high --
Or such an elevation,
That the swift whirl with which we fly
Shall conquer gravitation.


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Read poems about / on: fish, dark, power, ode, truth, green, fire, heaven, sun, light, dance, fishing, rose, star



Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003



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