Sunday, 19 April 2015

Where London stood

I like Shelley’s poem Ozymandias, but for all the wrong reasons.  I first came across it in Weber’s More Random Walks in Science.  In the article “Preparing scientific papers” by N. S. Haile (originally published in Nature), it is treated as a geology paper, with wonderful snarky referee comments such as:
I met a traveller2 from an antique land3
Who said: Two4 vast5 and trunkless legs6 of stone7 ...

2 Since this paper appears to be based on field observations by another geologist, we suggest joint authorship would be appropriate
4 This is the only quantitative statement!
and so on, then with a rewritten “improved” version, titled: Twin limb-like basalt columns (‘trunkless legs’) near Wadi Al-Fazar and their relationship to plate tectonics.

What I didn’t know then was that there is already another version, another poem with the same name and subject, by Horace Smith, written in friendly competition with Shelley.

I heard about that other version for the first time earlier this week, surfing some blog posts, and thought, “that’s interesting”, particularly with its post-apocalyptic science fictional ending (if somewhat risible “gigantic Leg”).

I heard about it a second time a day or so later, on a news item, and thought, “that’s a coincidence”.

I heard about it a third time today while reading a book, and thought, “FFS, enough with the Horace Smith version already!”

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