Rhythms of Change: The Victorian Science Poems of May Kendall
June 11, 2018 11:30 AM   Subscribe

"The poems vary in subject matter from an Ichthyosaurus to the possibility of a fourth dimension, but they share a deep fascination and engagement with science itself, along with relentless mockery of anyone who would use science to maintain the status quo." Olivia Rosane looks at the work of May Kendall (1861-1943), in which she "take[s] science as inspiration, to act based not on the male-dominated discourse surrounding it but the spirit of inquiry that animates it at its best."

May Kendall's best-known poem is "The Lay of the Trilobite." Further work by Kendall can be found at Poetry Nook and at the Internet Archive.

May Kendall's biography on "Ladies Who Punch"
posted by mixedmetaphors (4 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I think Data may have been inspired by Kendall's work when he wrote his "Ode to Spot."

Does anybody get the punchline to this poem? Who is "Mrs. Harris"? "Ballad of Bathybius" (contains some mermaid cleavage):
And yet we cannot share his [Huxley's] honest pride.
          A doctrine oft miscarries.
His Protoplasm may be ranked beside
          Our old friend, Mrs. Harris.
posted by steef at 1:08 PM on June 11, 2018

My guess is that it refers to Elizabeth Webber Harris, who risked her life nursing soldiers with cholera in India in the 1860s. Being a woman, she was ineligible to receive an actual Victoria Cross, so the regiment she served made her an "honorary" replica Victoria Cross instead. (Aside from this pdf of recollections and newspaper articles, the only links I'm finding about her online are dismal tabloid newspapers.)

If she's who Kendall's referring to, I'm reading it as a "So here's your participation ribbon" burn.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 2:23 PM on June 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

In context, it's much more likely to be the imaginary "Mrs. Harris" from Charles Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit--Kendall's point being that Huxley's theories about protoplasm are about as rooted in reality as Mrs. Gamp's allusions to Mrs. Harris.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:43 PM on June 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oh wow, I think you're right. I hadn't considered that, and I even just reread parts of Martin Chuzzlewit last year.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 8:19 PM on June 11, 2018

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