ATOMIC DISCOVERIES
SECTION 6. PHYSICS AND POETRY I

ROBERT FROST

Robert Frost (1874-1963) has for decades been
widely regarded as one of America's premier poets.
Frost is an artist who had an interest in nature
that ran far deeper than images of the bucolic
countryside, who kept abreast of the science
of his day (his favorite magazine was Scientific
American), and who found poetic expression for
the exciting and provocative concepts concerning
atoms and the proper language to describe their
behavior.

Frost's poem "A Wish to Comply" (1949) alludes to a well-known physicist (R. Millikan) and introduces readers to the epistemology and intellectual spirit of quantum physics.

Read the poem below and answer the following questions:

1. Who do you think is the speaker?
2. What is he referring to by the "Millikan mote" (line 2) and the "it" (line 1) ?
3. In this poem Frost is alluding to the nature of knowledge in science. More
   specifically to the role played by bias in scientific discoveries. What lines
   of the poem present a concrete image of the thin line between the
   observed and the observer?
4. How is bias presented in the poem as related to the poems' title?
5. In your opinion is bias a good thing or a bad thing in Science? Defend
   your answer.
A WISH TO COMPLY

Did I see it go by,
That Millikan mote?
Well, I said that I did.
I made a good try.
But I'm no one to quote.
If I have a defect
It's a wish to comply
And see as I'm bid.
I rather suspect
All I saw was the lid
Going over my eye.
I honestly think
All I saw was a wink.
PART I. THE ATOM
SECTION 1. THE GREEK CONCEPT OF 'ATOMOS'
SECTION 2. JOHN DALTON: THE FATHER OF THE
                 CHEMICAL ATOMIC THEORY

PART II. THE ELECTRON AND THE NUCLEUS
SECTION 3. DISCOVERY OF THE ELECTRON
SECTION 4. MILLIKAN'S OIL DROP EXPERIMENT
SECTION 5. RUTHERFORD'S GOLD FOIL EXPERIMENT

PART III. PHYSICS AND POETRY
SECTION 6. PHYSICS AND POETRY
PHYSICS AND POETRY II

The poem entitled "Version" (1962) is Frost's seemingly whimsical ode to the discovery of the nuclear atom by Ernest Rutherford and his assistants Geiger and Marsden, an event of surpassing significance because it thoroughly revised our conception of matter.

6. How is Rutherford portrayed in the poem?
7. What does the "shaft" (line 3) represent?
8. What does Frost mean by The "New Departure" (line 4)
9. Why is the term  "non-resistance" (line 12) ironic?
10. By ways of an unusual metaphor Frost tells us that  the atom loses its
     virginity. How is this illustrated in the poem (i.e. what are the elements
     used in the metaphor?)
11. More than that, perhaps, science itself loses its virginity.
Using the information gathered in this activity (from the Greeks to Rutherford's findings) to write a conclusion about this statement.
              VERSION

Once there was an Archer,
And there was a minute
When He shot a shaft
On a New Departure.
Then He must have laughed:
Comedy was in it.
For the game He hunted
Was the non-existence
Of the Phoenix pullet
(The Mηόύ [not being] of Plato),
And the shaft got blunted
On her non-resistance,
Like a dum-dum bullet
Did in fact get splattered
Like a ripe tomato.
That's how matter mattered.