Alexander Pope

First follow Nature, and your judgment frame
By her just standard, which is still the same:
Unerring nature, still divinely bright,
One clear, unchanged, and universal light,
Life, force, and beauty must to all impart,
At once the source, and end, and test of art.
Alexander Pope
Essay On Criticism 39; Miscellaneous Poems and Translations: by Several Hands (1720), 38.
Pope is fast becoming my favourite poet.

Thomas Browne

Natura nihil agit frustra [Nature does nothing in vain] is the only indisputible axiom in philosophy. There are no grotesques in nature; not any thing framed to fill up empty cantons, and unncecessary spaces.
Religio Medici (1642), Part I, Section 15. In Thomas Browne and Simon Wilkin (Ed.), The Works of Thomas Browne (1852), Vol. 2, 339.
No grotesques in Nature?
Not any thing framed to fill up empty cantons?
(I hope that TOWIE is still going when this gets published or this will make no sense)

Thomas Gray

thomas gray
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
     The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
      And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
     And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
     And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;
Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower
     The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such, as wandering near her secret bower,
     Molest her ancient solitary reign.
Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,
     Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
     The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.
The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn,
     The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,
The cock’s shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
     No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.
For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
     Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire’s return,
     Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.
Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
     Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
     How bowed the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!
Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
     Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
     The short and simple annals of the poor.
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
     And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour.
     The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,
     If Memory o’er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
     The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.
Can storied urn or animated bust
     Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust,
     Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
     Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have swayed,
     Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.
But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
     Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll;
Chill Penury repressed their noble rage,
     And froze the genial current of the soul.
Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
     The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
     And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
Some village Hampden, that with dauntless breast
     The little tyrant of his fields withstood;
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
     Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood.
Th’ applause of listening senates to command,
     The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land,
     And read their history in a nation’s eyes,
Their lot forbade: nor circumscribed alone
     Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
     And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,
The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
     To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
     With incense kindled at the Muse’s flame.
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
     Their sober wishes never learned to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
     They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
Yet ev’n these bones from insult to protect,
     Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture decked,
     Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.
Their name, their years, spelt by th’ unlettered Muse,
     The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,
     That teach the rustic moralist to die.
For who to dumb Forgetfulness a prey,
     This pleasing anxious being e’er resigned,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
     Nor cast one longing, lingering look behind?
On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
     Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
Ev’n from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,
     Ev’n in our ashes live their wonted fires.
For thee, who mindful of th’ unhonoured Dead
     Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,
     Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,–
Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,
     “Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away
     To meet the sun upon the upland lawn.
“There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
     That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
     And pore upon the brook that babbles by.
“Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
      Muttering his wayward fancies he would rove,
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
     Or crazed with care, or crossed in hopeless love.
“One morn I missed him on the ‘customed hill,
     Along the heath and near his favorite tree;
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
     Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;
“The next with dirges due in sad array
     Slow through the church-way path we saw him borne.
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay,
     Graved on the stone beneath yon aged thorn.”
I’m sorry. It’s a long one. But everyone should read this poem, no questions asked. Yes it’s a bit miserable, but it’s good.

William Shakespeare

CLAUDIO: Death is a fearful thing.
ISABELLA: And shamed life a hateful.
CLAUDIO: Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprisioned in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendant world; or to be worst than worst
Of those lawless and incertain thought
Imagine howling—’tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury, and imprisionment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death.
Measure for Measure (1604), III, i.
If my 14 year old self knew that the 25 year old self would be quoting shakespeare he would have shot himself.

Robert Frost


These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.
The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods—
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.

Robert Frost, Spring Pools

I like this poem. One of my not particularly sciencey quotes.