He slipped into it the way a man with ruddy
cheeks and cupped hands can find himself
with an orchard.
Henry Cavendish, whose only extant portrait
is an ink sketch of him hurrying from the room,
in speech, and refused to meet a person’s eye,
or to stand brilliant in the public gaze, made a name
measuring the unseen.
As a man with broad back and steady eye
sizes up a wall, the elusive Cavendish
was in his element
with factitious air. He measured with precision the
constancy of the atmosphere, discovered hydrogen,
put his finger
on the freezing point of quicksilver and felt the pulse
of gravity. He gauged the phenomena of electricity
in a time of candles.
Then, out of thin air, this man who trod so lightly, who
was – even in his own home – barely there, measured
the density of the Earth.
I wrote this after helping my daughter with a science project. I was so fascinated by Cavendish I kept researching him long after she'd stuck in her last hydrogen atom and gone to bed. For more Tuesday Poems click the quill in the sidebar. The hub poem this week is chosen by Philadelphian poet Eileen Moeller, and there's so much more besides...