Tag Archives: poetry

The science of the art

We live in a world which demands a great deal of scientists. A range of well-regarded fields, ranging from environmentalism to physics, are generating high expectations. As a consequence, these sorts of professionals are viewed as genius. Conversely, some of these people of science look down on the artists, since they think not only are their fields more important, but also that they could make art easily. Luckily, this is not the rule, though I’ve observed this situation’s spreading out lately. I must state to these people that art and science aren’t so far from each other. Indeed, there’s an art of the science, and a science of the art.

Probably, the easiest topic to discuss is the architecture. Almost nobody argues it is part art and part science, since both are needed to design and build any modern building. Because of that I will write about poetry. It has got lots of traditions depending on cultures and centuries, though I think what I’m going to defend is easy to grasp.

DNA, from Commons (public domain)

DNA, from Commons (public domain)

Everybody associates poetry with feelings. Those who know it better could add other things, such as thoughts and social criticism. All of that is ok, but poetry has got a technique as a background. Rhymes are well-known, but they are a tiny part of the huge amount of resources the poetry manages, namely metrics, accentual rhythm, metaphors and so on. Beyond the classic ones there is a huge amount of them, as well as in ancient poetry, though this brief writing doesn’t intend to show all of them. Instead, I would like to compare a bit the way science and poetry work. I realize this comparison won’t be thorough. Actually, it will be fairly innocent. This short post is far from being a whole book after all!

Sciences have modernly started out from the scientific method, which is based on observation, making questions and testing the hypothesis, to put it very simply. The key part is the second. The scientific needs to formulate an idea called hypothesis which must be tested. Science is not science at all if nobody knows where to go. Hopefully, there will be great discoveries different from the desired goal, but there must be an initial goal, which is any theory or target. The understanding needed to think through known concepts in order to create or discover a new one is a pace forward. In other words, new knowledge appears from old knowledge, but it is original in and of itself. Regarding that, science is similar to arts. The scientist gambles, and the guesswork doesn’t turn into a fact until the hypothesis is proved. Objectiveness is not all over science, though it is a part of the goal.

A poem cares about how things are said. I think this is a good definition. Note that ‘poem’ is not a synonym of ‘poetry’…, but let’s move on. The definition given implies a wide amount of things which are related with languages. This means that sounds ranges of a tongue, accentuation of words, syntax and every single variation on how things are said, as well as feelings and sensations conveyed, can be studied. According to the objective and even physic rules a poet can understand from such a study, the poem can follow or break them. That is, starting with a deep observation of the language and the culture, a poet can imagine not a theory but something he or she wants to achieve. The process of making the poem includes therefore many experiments which stem from his/her observations, many of them failed, until reaching something which fits the original target and whose correct interpretation and reading by the reader is possible due to linguistic and cultural facts.

I’m aware of the fact that sciences could follow slightly different methods, like that proposed by Jared Diamond for a science of history, and poetry could be made on the basis of other less technical and objective methods. The point is that there is a method in poetry as well as an intention, and resources which are based on facts. Hopefully, arts and sciences will learn a lot from each other. Both are equally needed, and they’re not as different as many people think.

Wisława Szymborska blurs frontiers

Image

Caught from Commons. Public domain.

If you live in Northern Europe you probably know who Wisława Szymborska was. Her poems deserved the Nobel Prize in 1996 and her pet subject, which was the disasters after a war, lures the German readers. Also, she developed great technical skills to make a poem, all of them on the basis of the smoothness and plainness. All in all, although her talent has stunned me, I don’t know anything about her technique. The reason is that I don’t speak Polish. And German readers either.

Spanish is the language whereby I know Szymborska. It is so different from Polish that you hardly appreciate the way a poem is composed apart from getting the big structure. Nonetheless, most of them shine with a characteristic beauty I admire. So here is my question. Why is able a translated poem to move someone?

I have often thought that you need to master both art and technique. And I think that is needed in poetry, in architecture and in sciences as well. But now I think I may be wrong. Perhaps there is something in a good piece of whatever thing which outranks all the rest. But I still consider you must master the language to soar above all the idiomatic boundaries. I may be looking for it, and that’s why I read Szymborska over and over again, in spite of missing lots of language subtleties.