The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In Edgar Allan Poe’s later collections, “Sonnet—To Science” appears with a footnote describing it as one of “the crude compositions of my earliest boyhood.” The same footnote excuses its republication with reference to “private reasons—some of which have reference to the sin of plagiarism, and others to the date of Tennyson’s first poems.” Alfred, Lord Tennyson, had been born in the same year as Poe and had published his first volume of poetry, Poems by Two Brothers (in association with his brother Charles), in 1827, the same year in which Poe’s earliest publications appeared.

The sonnet’s rhyme scheme follows the English, or Shakespearean, form rather than the Italian, or Petrarchan, sonnet form. Its substance, by contrast, has more in common with the Italian tradition, which characteristically involves the posing of a question, than with the English tradition, which tends to be more meditative. Where the Petrarchan sonnet would usually supplement an interrogatory octave with a responsive sestet, however, “Sonnet—To Science” maintains its inquiring tone throughout the three quatrains and the concluding couplet.

“Sonnet—To Science” addresses its object from a point of view solidly anchored within the Romantic movement, likening science’s keen-eyed inquiry to a vulture whose wings cast a shadow of “dull reality” upon the landscape of the imagination. It asks how the poet, having discovered such...

(The entire section is 526 words.)