Posts Tagged scientists
A while ago I wrote a poem called ‘They might not be giants‘, about the famous phrase, ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ A while later, that poem was published in Offshoots 12, the 2013 anthology of the Geneva Writers’ Group.
Ever since writing it, I’ve been thinking about how great it would be to see a picture of the tower of dwarves described. I’ve also been thinking about which plural of ‘dwarf’ is best, and a couple of grammatical and typographical decisions I made regarding the poem, but mostly I’ve been thinking about the picture. Well, I finally commissioned Len Peralta to draw that picture for me! It is gorgeous.
It is also the real reason I set up a Zazzle store; you can buy it as an 11×17 poster featuring the poem. I’ll have some printed locally as well, so if anyone near Vienna wants one they can buy one directly from me. Maybe you’d like one for yourself, or an aspiring scientist, or an inspiring teacher, or a Len Peralta fan, or an Angela Brett fan (
do they exist? Edit: there is one) or even a They Might Be Giants fan who wants their poster collection to cover all possibilities. I think it’s suitable for anyone who has walls. If you know anyone who doesn’t have walls who would like some, see if you can help them find a home.
I’ve always been fascinated by Len’s videos of himself drawing, so I paid a little extra to get this mesmerising speedpaint video, which doubles as a great way to get an idea of what the poster looks like close-up. Note that the final poster has the title of the poem on it, and a few other small changes to the text.
I still can’t watch it without squeeing. It took him 2 hours, 36 minutes, which is about how long it would take me to draw a stick figure version indistinguishable from a Christmas tree.
This is actually not the first time I’ve commissioned Len to draw something for me; he also drew the picture of Jonathan Coulton transforming into an internet superstar at the beginning of a video I made to celebrate Jonathan’s Thing A Week by summarising each song in the form of a ‘roses are red’ poem. He drew most of the rest of the art in the video, too, but that was done already as part of his Visual Thing A Week project, which is the reason I know he exists.
That’s all from me. Go have fun, and tune in tomorrow for the next exciting installment of Forms and Formulae.
Note: this poem is now available on a poster!
“If I have seen farther,” the scientist said,
“it’s not because I am a giant.
“Great minds of the past have helped me get ahead;
it’s their shoulders on which I’m reliant.”
“Now listen to me!” said the great on whose shoulder
the first one was glad to have stood.
“I’m quite short of stature, it’s just that I’m older
and those before me were so good.”
And sure enough, this one was perched on the neck
of a giantist of great renown
who balanced in turn on another; by heck!
It’s little guys all the way down.
And some were thought giants, and some were thought midgets
and some were thought nothing at all,
but each would insist, “Those below were no idjits.
It’s them that have made me so tall.”
And scrambling around them their fans would aspire,
to see something not seen before
by climbing the tower of dwarves, ever higher
for glimpses, or footholds, or more.
Most could not scale to the summit in time,
before their peak fitness would end.
Some found it tough and abandoned the climb
while some would, with vigor, descend:
Aware that such heights were so taxing to reach,
they helped to lift people and hopes,
inventing new ladders and platforms to teach,
securing and showing the ropes.
“They might not be giants, but they must go far
and that journey isn’t for me.
I’ll boost them through science, raise them and the bar
and profit from what they will see.”
So said the teacher while lifting a child
on shoulders so humble and stressed.
The youth saw a vista that had them beguiled
and bounded straight up to the crest.
Quotes similar to “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” have been attributed to many scientists and scholars. It’s been bugging me for a while, because even if the people whose shoulders they’re standing on are metaphorically taller than average, they’re nowhere near as big as how giants are imagined today, and they’re surely standing on someone else’s shoulders. There are no giants; it’s a tower of dwarves, and if it ever looks like it’s made of ivory, it’s just because the dwarves don’t spend enough time in the sun. You don’t need to be a giant to get up onto the topmost shoulders, but you need to do an awful lot of climbing; there’s a lot to learn before you can discover something new these days. Enjoy the view on the way up.
Luckily, we have people who invent new climbing techniques and equipment, and telescopes to see more when we get up there. This poem focusses more on teachers, but they could be science writers, YouTubers, educational charities, scientific songwriters (yes, even the ones that might be giants), inventors of more efficient lab equipment (the real or metaphorical telescope), maybe even code monkeys like me. Now that I’ve listed those things, it reminds me of the song ‘Somebody Will‘ by Sassafrass.
I would love to see illustrations of the tower of dwarves.