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Rigid Body Sings -- James Maxwell

Winding up the theme...
(Poem #805) Rigid Body Sings
 Gin a body meet a body
 Flyin' thro the air,
 Gin a body hit a body,
 Will it fly? And where?
 Ilka impact has its measure
 Ne'er a' ane hae I
 Yet a' the lads they measure me,
 Or, at least, they try.

 Gin a body meet a body
 Altogether free,
 How they travel afterwards
 We do not always see.
 Ilka problem has its method
 By analytics high;
 For me, I ken na ane o' them,
 But what the waur am I?
-- James Maxwell
Notes: gin: if
       ilka: each
       ane: one
       ken: know, understand
       waur: worse

 The poem is a parody of Robert Burns' "Comin' Thro the Rye"

Maxwell needs little introduction - his eponymous "Maxwell's Equations"
revolutionised electromagnetism, and much of physics thereby. Planck said of
him "His name stands magnificently over the portal of classical physics, and
we can say this of him; by his birth James Clerk Maxwell belongs to
Edinburgh, by his personality he belongs to Cambridge, by his work he
belongs to the whole world."

Lesser known, however, is the fact that Maxwell was, from an early age, an
enthusiastic and prolific poet:

  About the middle of his school career however he surprised his companions
  by suddenly becoming one of the most brilliant among them, gaining prizes
  and sometimes the highest prizes for scholarship, mathematics, and English
  verse composition.
        -- J J O'Connor and E F Robertson, see 'Biography' link

'Rigid Body' doesn't get as 'scientific' as some of Maxwell's other poems,
but it's one of his best known, and IMO one of his most charming. The rigid
body's philosophical look at the scientists and their analytics strikes just
the right balance between playful and serious, and finishes off with a couplet
worthy of Burns himself. All in all, quite delightful.


  There's an excellent biography at


The Burns original: poem #675

A rather different poem by Maxwell:

A long essay on Maxwell, the man and the scientist:


 This proved to be a rather popular theme - sadly, few people paid heed to
 the 'poems by scientists' criterion, but there were so many good science
 poems sent in that I decided to relax the rule. Indeed, we actually got
 more poems than we could run in the theme - if you've sent in a poem and it
 hasn't appeared, worry not; we'll run it as a standalone piece.

 Here's a listing of the poems in the theme:
  Poem #795 Harold P. Furth, 'The Perils of Modern Living'
  Poem #797 Lewis F. Richardson, 'Big Whorls Have Little Whorls'
  Poem #798 John Updike, 'V.B. Nimble, V.B. Quick'
  Poem #800 Miroslav Holub, 'In the Microscope'
  Poem #801 Anonymous, 'A mosquito was heard to complain'
  Poem #803 Catherine Faber, 'The Word of God'


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Алена Черных said...

James Maxwell was not only a talented scientist, but a good, humorous person -

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