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Romantic science on the London Underground

DACEY london underground.jpg
A tube speeding into a station Photograph: Transport for London

By James Dacey

It may be convenient, but the London Underground can be a dark, uninspiring place at times. That is why we should welcome this new project by the Royal Society that is decorating London tubes with poetry inspired by scientific discovery and the changes it has brought to our society. The project is part of the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society, and is one of a number of projects and events taking place this year.

Works by William Blake and Alfred Lord Tennyson feature in a collection of six poems that appear in tube carriages across all London Underground lines. The collection also contains more modern pieces including, my personal favourite, a poem called Out There by Jamie McKendrick. The 20th century British poet manages to bring a sense of humour to the, often cold, images evoked by human space travel:

Nostalgia for the earth and its atmosphere
weakens the flesh and bones of cosmonauts.
One woke to find his crewmate in a space suit
and asked where he was going. For a walk.

The project is the brainchild of American writer, Judith Chernaik, who launched the original Poems on the Underground back in 1986. I caught up with her to see what inspired the selection of this particular set of poetry.

“I was looking for poems and poets that crossed boundaries. Tennyson was an obvious choice as he writes so much about the romance of discovery, as did many others during the Victorian period,” she told me.

With more than 3 million people using the London Underground every day, the project will certainly expose scientific discovery to a very diverse audience.

These 6 poems will remain on the tubes until the end of March.

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