Poetry in the Archives

Posted April 24th, 2014 by Nora Murphy

For National Poetry Month, a poem from MIT faculty papers housed in the Institute Archives and Special Collections.

ChromosomeSmall“Ode to a Chromosome,” found in the papers of biologist Francis Otto Schmitt, is one of the poems we came across recently. Poetry in scientific and engineering collections is an unexpected treat. The poetic inclinations of members of the MIT community, from limericks to sonnets, can be found throughout the collections. Early issues of The Tech and Technique are filled with verse.  Some verses are flowery, many are amusing, some reference MIT, and the theme of others is more broadly scientific. Some of the works are good and others not so good, depending on your poetic sensibilities.

MIT has spawned a number of poets, among them Frank Gelett Burgess, class of 1887, whose nonsense verse “Purple Cow: Reflections on a Mythic Beast Who’s Quite Remarkable, at Least” brought him fame but also frustration that it was the verse for which he was best known.

Discussion about the place of the humanities at MIT has been recurring since the establishment of the Institute in 1861. A 2010 editorial in The Tech by graduate student Emily Ruppel (“MIT – poetry = a travesty”) and a subsequent blog by John Lundberg for the Huffington Post (“Should MIT Teach Poetry?“) reflect on the value of poetry in a scientific and engineering community.

Contact the Institute Archives and Special Collections to find out more about poems and other research material created by the MIT community.

 

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