Scientia et Arte

If science were art and art were science, then the howling black wolf has probably swallowed some N-(4-hydroxyphenyl)ethanamide.

Writing Through the Plume of Ezra Pound (An Imagist Poem on Protein)

The first two poems (below) are both Dickinsonian in style and very proto-Modernist, such that the use of punctuation is challenged and the rhyming scheme is obviously problematic, at least, as seen through the lens of traditional poets and linguists. The words I used are very symbolic, and I would forgive my readers if they assert that they find my poems incomprehensible. That is all right. The Dickinsonian style of writing poems is often described as profound but very uninviting to most readers. To put it into an analogy, this style of writing is like seeing a house with many windows but no doors. You can look into the house through the windows, but you have no way to enter it. Most people would walk away, declaring that not being able to go through is a waste of time. But those who are brave would stay and cherish the opportunity to look into the house with a fresh perspective. These are the adventurous ones, the ones who prefer to observe in the background while the lights are on and the evening’s darkness cloaks them against prying eyes. They see, but they are not seen. That’s their way of “going through”.

Emily Dickinson

However, though I am an advocate of the Dickinsonian tradition, I can identify with those who prefer other styles of writing or who have other ways to go around things and symbols. In 1912, a movement in poetry was represented by a group of what we call now the Imagist poets. They were Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, and others, who wished to use exact words and exact images to describe a scene. Over time, this movement reached the Americans and poets like Hilda Doolittle, Richard Aldington, and F.S. Flint joined in. They saw the careless ideologies and the overrated Romantic optimism among the proto-Modernist poets and the traditional ones. They wrote concisely, and they persevered to create poems that would leave their readers an image – a concrete image – and not an image that was symbolic. If they said “a red wheelbarrow”, the readers were expected to see a red wheelbarrow, not labor or any other symbols, in their minds.

From an Imagist manifesto:

1. To use the language of common speech, but to employ the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word.

2. We believe that the individuality of a poet may often be better expressed in free verse than in conventional forms. In poetry, a new cadence means a new idea.

3. Absolute freedom in the choice of subject.

4. To present an image. We are not a school of painters, but we believe that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous. It is for this reason that we oppose the cosmic poet, who seems to us to shirk the real difficulties of his art.

5. To produce a poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.

6. Finally, most of us believe that concentration is of the very essence of poetry.

The American beauty rose is beautiful only because the early buds are sacrificed (pruned). Everything is too artificial, too flowery, too verbose, too not straight to the point. We do not need to go to the florist to get a beautiful rose. We just have to go to the sea where a sea rose lies. It is beautiful in its dryness, in its meagerness. There is no need to beautify it because it is already beautiful in the first place. “If we could only be laconic and be straightforward” – this! This is the sentiment of the Imagists. And so this poem….

Primary to Tertiary (A Protein’s Dilemma)

Last night

I had a dream.




straight chain


Oxygen, the selfish one

Nitrogen, the lady tramp

Both want to dance with hydrogen — frozen!

α-helix ribbons and

β-pleated sheets glow.

But the wrath

of water

makes the backbone collapse

“Away from her!”

the captain commands.

With limited freedom

Whom are we to trust?

Ion pair, disulfide bridges,

Zinc fingers – a must!

A protein showing its secondary structure

I must admit that my poem is still far from the Imagist flavor that Ezra Pound wished to see, but at least, my poems are clearer when written like this. Though I must also admit that I still prefer to write the Dickinsonian way. Hence, this poem is a hybrid between Dickinson and Pound or, more aptly, proto-Modernism and Imagism. I hope you learn biochemistry with the help of poetry.


[Post by Ryan Santiago]


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This entry was posted on September 30, 2012 by in Biochemical Poetry and tagged , , , , , .
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