In popular imagination, poetry and science have a dichotomous relationship and never twain shall meet. John Keats, who was a surgeon and apothecary himself, thought science ruins the beauty of things by dissecting into components, “a dull catalogue of common things”.
But their relationship is much deeper. In contrast, many see the unity of both and think that science is the poetry of reality, before and beyond mathematics and logic; scientists in turn are trying to make sense of stars inside them. As Goethe famously said, science arose from poetry and when the time comes both can meet again on higher level as friends. Truly in the enthusiasm of a genius, science becomes imagination and poetry a sublime instinct like a science.
Mandira Ghosh’s Poetry and Science: Opposite Meet is a unique book of poetry. An office bearer of the Poetry Society India now, she was the guest editor of the special Indian edition of the Seventh Quarry, Swansea Magazine from Wales. A poet and author, she has about a dozen books of poems to her name. This volume is a delicate attempt at adding ideas from science with a poetic instinct.
Ghosh’s poetic meditations on scientific subject are her way to connect and introspect. Both scientists and poets depend on metaphors and while giving a poetic treatment to a scientific subject, the former comes in handy. Here the metaphors are scientific findings, truths and possibilities transmuted into a poetic life.
“I am made of atoms, mainly of carbon and oxygen/
I am matter
Consciousness is the sunlight of my photosynthesis”
(from Poem ‘I’)
Her scientific background does not deter her from superimposing her alchemic ideas to convert it into poetry by the play of her imagination.
Powerful Shanti Mantra connects with science when she says.
“you divide infinite by two
Infinite will remain infinite
Infinite by infinite will be constant.”
It harks back to “Poornamadah Poornamidm / Poornaat Purnamudachyate/ Purnasa Purnamaadaya/ Purnaevaa Vasishyate” of the Isha Upanishad.
But it is the transmutation of human instinct and human code that makes the effect linger. In the poem ‘Homage to to Kalpna’, she questions,
“River of sorrow
Soul of the young astronaut
Have you joined the fathomless sea?”
It is both the cyclicality of Upanishadic life and rules of destruction of physics together at play.
For her, the Milky Way is like a coiled snake, it binds unlimited stars where “Light links the spiral binding of space and time.” The poet is bothered by loneliness in the vast cosmos, a dust granule in the milky way, and for the welfare of the same granules infinite life forms might have perished. The enormity of sacrifice inspires her to say let’s try with all our might to put back the clock when our self interest is destroying the planet. A poetic proclamation for an active role in reversing climate change is ingenuous and attractive.
The search, exploration and the unending quest edifies man. “In the final frontier he refuses to die.” As a poet she is the unacknowledged legislator deifying the invincibility of human spirit. Questions of science do not end with the end of possibility. They instead push the frontiers of the known, and the yet to be known.
“The cosmos is a unique sculpture; a dynamic creation and continuous kinetic destruction.” But this is a sculpture where “every line functions/cosmos never follows arbitrary laws.” Here alone, a humble lump of clay in my “brain and vanity/have translated to a poem.” Be it the “creation of the living forms out of sand tirelessly created by the cosmic sculptor” or the realisation that “the cosmos is her body and the sun is her solar self” – there is a strong connect between the ambient cosmos, a human and all life forms.
“Death of sun’s music” shows not only exhaustion of all energy towards the death of the sun, but breaking all harmonies into pieces by the hand of man. It is a wake-up call for the whole of mankind to practice restraint in place of avarice.
Jayant Mohapatra, the eminent English poet from India, didn’t find any contradictions between poetry and science. Both deal with chaos in the universe and the ambiguity and uncertainty of life. While science is the poetry of the intellect, poetry is the science of human emotion. Ghosh has gone on an adventure in embracing and exploring both and coming out so successfully.
Science and poetry are not opposites, really. One is a like a journey where the goal is the destination and the other is like an excursion where the process is at the heart. But there is much less contradiction in them than one may think. When science and poetry meet there are two possibilities – a clash or harmony. Readers of Ghosh’s poetry will unmistakably spot the latter and ponder over the unity of both.
Satya Mohanty is a poet, author and former IAS officer.