Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/837

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POETRY AND SCIENCE.

of the actual world around us, it is unquestionably the expression of an attempt on the part of the mind of man to deal with life from the standpoint of the feelings. It has been well said that while science is concerned with the study of the relations of things among themselves, religion and poetry are concerned with the study of the relations of things to us. This gives us the poet's problem. Regarding the new thought through the medium of the imagination, he has to inquire in what way and to what extent the changes in our conceptions of the universe and man brought about by science affect our emotional outlook—our feelings respecting our own individual lives, our sympathies with the lives of others, our attitude toward Nature, our hope for the future of the race here and of the individual hereafter.

What, then, will be the poet's response to the intellectual conditions under which he lives? Confronted as he is by this large mass of unemotionalized knowledge, what will be his message to his time? It may be one of passionate protest against or obstinate indifference to the revolutionary movement in progress around him, and which may seem to him to be taking all the charm from life, all the beauty from the world. It may be one of simple doubt and hesitation; a mere cry of Why? and Whither?—not so much an answer to the mute questionings of men, as a translation of those questionings into language and form. Or, in the third place, it may be a glimpse of coming things—an attempt to catch the new thought and force it to an emotional revelation. And as no man can wholly exclude the "element of necessity from his labor," or "quite emancipate himself from his age and country,"[1] so in one or other of these three ways will the forces of the time influence and fashion the poet's work. His attitude will thus be one of reaction, of uncertainty, or of prophecy; his gospel a gospel of evasion, of skepticism, or of promise.

Hereafter I hope to sketch the history of the poetry of the nineteenth century from the point of view now indicated—that is, to study it in direct connection with the scientific and industrial movements of our time. Here, in the illustration of the above theory, I must content myself with the mention of a few typical names.

For the most distinctive example of the poetry of evasion we turn naturally to the pages of John Keats. Leave out of question the artistic qualities of his work, which have absorbed most critics, but which do not concern us here, and the most significant thing about Keats is his absolute indifference to the life and spirit of his time. The world about him was alive with fresh interests and hopes; watchwords of progress were in the air he


  1. Emerson, Essay on Art.