The poem “Sonnet – To Science” written by Edgar Allen Poe was published by Hatch & Dunning in the poetry collection “Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems” 1829. Edgar Allan Poe, a renowned poet during the American romanticism, chose science as the central topic and how it is affecting poetry. Upon the first reading, the reader is directly confronted with the central topic, “Science! ” With further reading it clarifies, that the poet is blaming science for something this becomes clear, through the various questions in the poem beginning in the third verse and continuing till the end.
For what and how he is blaming science will be explored in more detail further in this essay. As the title says the poem is a sonnet and is following the standard rhyming scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet, ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, but in this case B and C also rhyme. The sonnet consists of fourteen verses and consists of four stanzas. The metrical structure of the poem is an iambic pentameter, also very common in Shakespearean sonnets. The poet asks why science has chosen poetry, “the poet’s heart”, as his prey.
Science is something a poet cannot “love”, because it is not letting him “seek for the treasure in the jeweled skies”, with its “dull realities”. But the poet is not intimidated and stays “soared with an undaunted wing”, but at the end has to accept that poetry has been mostly suppressed by science. The first stanza begins with a personification, “Science! ”. Poe speaks directly to science; through this stylistic device it becomes very clear that Poe is angry or blaming science for something.
He continues the personification through the whole sonnet referring to science as “thou”. Poe also uses a personification to mention poetry in his sonnet. This he does by referring to poetry as “he”. By using personifications the poet emphasizes the competition between science and poetry; this is how Poe intensifies the reader empathizing with poetry as a victim. But at the same time he does not want to let the reader think that science is something new and better.
He begins with an essential metaphor, “true daughter of Old Time thou art”, referring to science as a creation which sourced out of the human past and their intellectual development, indicating that they have the same roots. This also becomes clear, because Poe refers to both as birds. The science is a “Vulture, whose wings are dull realities” and poetry is a bird which “soared with an undaunted wing”.
At the end of the first stanza the reader gets the first insight of what science is being blamed for. The rhetorical question containing an essential metaphor “Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart? shows that Poe is may be blaming science for targeting poetry, but why does not become clear, neither the position that the author has against science. In the second stanza the disgust for science becomes irrevocable, with a rhetorical question “How should he love thee? Or how deem thee wise“ the reader can definitely assume that Poe does not sympathize with science. Also in the second stanza, Poe writes that science “would not leave him in his wandering to seek for the treasure in the jeweled skies”; this is a metaphor describes the competition between science and poetry.
Both are looking for the “treasure in the jewelled skies”, meaning that poetry and science are both trying to find the same answers, but science is much more efficient and poetry is not able to recover lost ground. Looking back at the first stanza, the poet shows the reader with a metaphor the reason why science has these advantages and is even able compete and to be more victorious than poetry. Science is a “Vulture, whose wings are dull realities” and with “peering eyes”. A “Vulture” is an animal which preys on the weak or dying.
With this metaphor Poe puts poetry in a weak a nearly dead position and with science’s “wings [which] are dull realities” the poet could be recognizing that, in contrary to poetry, science is even supported by a reality. The “peering eyes” are referring to the scientific method of examining every detail carefully, also a characteristic that poetry lacks of. In the third Stanza the effects of science on humanity and nature are being brought closer to the reader and the reason why Poe is blaming science are clear.
He uses metaphors to show these effects. “Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car? refers to the Roman goddess of hunting and virginity. In Roman mythology Diana is illustrated as a woman with hounds and riding the moon. In this case Poe is saying that science is destroying mythology, because through science it became obvious that it is not possible to ride on the moon. This can be interpreted further because the mythology of Poe’s era is religion. Science is not only suppressing poetry, it is also letting religion become something that less people believe in because it is actually not completely based on real facts which the scientific generation needs to believe.
The other metaphor Poe uses in the third stanza is also based on mythology, on Greek and Roman, “And driven the Hamadryad from the wood to seek a shelter in some happier star? ” The Hamadryad is a nymph from Greek and Roman mythology that lives in a tree and when the tree dies, the Hamadryad dies with it. Considering what a Hamadryad is, the metaphor can be interpreted as the destruction of nature through scientific progress. The next two verses are also a metaphor based on mythology,” Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood, the Elfin from the green grass”.
A naiad is a classic mythological water nymph, a creature living in and from water and an elfin is a creature that lives in forest and also very close to nature; meaning that Poe is still indicating the damage from which nature is suffering. But not only the metaphors indicate the severity of this situation also language used is showing it very clearly. The verbs used to describe how the mythical creatures are being removed from their habitat are very brutal. Poe uses strong verbs like “dragged”, “driven” and “torn”, verbs that have a negative and strong impact on the reader.
The last metaphor in this sonnet is the one that leaves the biggest negative impact on the reader, “and from me the summer dream beneath the tamarind tree? ”, the impact is so big because this is the first time that Poe talks about himself, “me”, in the rest of the sonnet he talks about poetry, “he”, and by changing the pronoun to “me” the readers connection with Poe is the strongest. A tamarind tree is a very beg evergreen tree with tropical fruits, that spend a lots of vital vitamins in minerals. With this background the metaphor can be interpreted as such that science took away ital part of Poe’s life, his eternal youth he could have had with poetry. In conclusion Poe is blaming science for extinguishing poetry, taking everything it needs to succeed and find the answers it was looking for. Science has taken the power to believe away from the people that now need scientific facts and prove to believe in something. The inspiration for this poem probably came to Poe due to the American industrialization occurring in the time the sonnet was written. A lot of natural environment was being destroyed for industrial construction and the population began to change and economy started to gain more and more importance.