Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Newton's Opticks and Keat's Lamia

I had a class last semester with Professor Porter where we looked at the relationship between Science & Literature, and this poem was particularly striking for me in its portrayal of science. Newton's Opticks was publicized in 1704, and it was a description of the experiments used by Newton to determine the composition of visible light. Using a crystal (and various other scientific devices) he discovered the white light is actually a combination of the rainbow, or ROYGBIV. Here is the link if anyone is interested in reading more...


After reading Keat's "Lamia," I think it is obvious that the image of a rainbow and of light is omnipresent through the poem. The initial description of Lamia evokes a lush, vibrant image: "she was a gordian shape of dazzling hue, / Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue / striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard, / eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barred" (47-50). When Apollo transforms her into a woman, she becomes a "lady bright" as in white light, which is scientifically composed of the rainbow. This now begins to relate back to Zach's initial question of philosophy and science in relation to magic and perhaps nature. Apollonius begins "Brow-beating her fair form, and troubling her sweet pride" with his cold philosophy, and Lamia becomes a "deadly white" as all subtle color fades from her face and her magic is destroyed (247, 272-76 for fading of color to death). Keats seems to be commenting on the relationship of Science to nature. A scientist's unemotional analysis of nature removes all of the mystery and wonder from the world; it removes the ability to love irrationally and focus on emotions, and I think "Lamia" is a beautiful integration of science and magic to convey Keat's sentiments.

1 comment:

  1. That was a brief recap of our class discussion last semester...hope it was clear/interesting!