I would like to add to Fleming Carswell's interesting Correspondence (Nature 411, 885; 2001) about the relevance of poetry to scientists today by mentioning a few of the scientists who in the past published their work as poetry.

Charles Darwin's grandfather Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802), for example, wrote up some of his own evolutionary and other theories in Popean couplets, perhaps best known in The Temple of Nature: Organic life beneath the shoreless waves Was born and nurs'd in Ocean's pearly caves; First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass, Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass.

In the same poem he describes 'the Maiden Truffle' as an example of reproduction without a sexual partner: So the lone Truffle, lodged beneath the earth, Shoots from paternal stems the tuberous birth. No stamen-males ascend, and breathe above, No seed-born offspring lives by female love.

These influenced not only his grandson but also the English romantic poets, to such an extent that Samuel Coleridge used the term “Darwinizing” to describe such poetic theorizing.

Alexander Pope (1688–1744) himself asked a cosmological question in his Essay on Man, Epistle 1, which is only now being answered: Observe how System into System runs. What other Planets circle other Suns? Later in the same epistle, he seemed to lay the foundation of statistics: All Nature is but Art unknown to thee; All Chance, Direction which thou canst not see.

Pope also wrote in his Epitaph for Sir Isaac Newton (perhaps anticipating the need for this journal?): Nature, and Nature's laws lay hid in night God said, Let Newton be! and all was light. to which J. C. Squire (1884–1958) in his Epigrams replied: It did not last: the Devil howling “Ho! Let Einstein be!”, restored the status quo.

The advice Pope gave in his Essay on Criticism could apply to Nature's referees: Let such teach others who themselves excel And censure freely who have written well.

Modern poets offer yet more of the stimulating and enjoyable reasons why, as Carswell states, scientists should “bother about poetry”. Not least among these are the poetry of Edwin Morgan (to be found, for example, in Stargate, Third Eye Centre, Glasgow, 1979); Miroslav Holub (for example, Vanishing Lung Syndrome, Faber and Faber, London, 1990); and Ronald Duncan (for example, Man: The Complete Cantos, Rebel Press, London, 1970).