Recent winner of the T.S. Eliot prize, Sarah Howe, has recently stated that “poetry and science both seek to peer through to the underlying reality of things”, opening up a bigger conversation – are science and poetry mutually exclusive disciplines?
As English applicants may be familiar, Keats would argue ‘yes’. He argued that science could clip an angel’s wings and that Newton has “destroyed the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to a prism”. English students should consider how poets have drawn from other disciplines in their pursuit of art, notably previous T.S. Eliot prize winner Kate Tempest, who drew on Classical themes in her collection Hold Your Own.
Poetry is also “particularly well placed [. . .] to represent some of these experiential aspects of qualia,” argues poet Helen Mort. Both poetry and science attempt to articulate larger, existential questions about our universe and ourselves, but this articulation merely differs in its execution. While poetry, and art more broadly, questions human existence, it does so through opening conversations rather than necessarily engendering answers.
Stephen Hawking recently collaborated with Howe on a poem for National Poetry Day, on which he commented that “Physicists and poets may differ in discipline, but both seek to communicate the beauty of the world around us.” Scientists and literature students alike should look to see how their pursuits can be influenced and informed by the other, and to explore the beauty in each.