Sonnet: To Science

Discussion questions and related resources for the poem "Sonnet: To Science" by Edgar Allan Poe

Science! true daughter of old Time thou art,
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.¹
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee, or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car,
And driven the hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the naiad from her flood,
The elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?

¹ Though the observer effect in science was not formally identified until long after Poe’s death, there is an interesting parallel between it and Poe’s description of the effect of science here.

Questions for Discussion and Writing

1.  What characteristics make this poem a sonnet?

2. Whom is the speaker addressing, and what literary devices does the speaker employ in doing so? Describe the speaker’s tone. Cite specific details to support your interpretation.

3. In what sense does science “alter all things” (line 2)?

4. What is the “Vulture” (line 4)? Why is it described this way? What rhetorical device is this an example of? How is the description of its wings paradoxical (line 4), and what is the effect of this paradox?

5. Describe the purpose and effect of the rhetorical questions the speaker asks.

6. What do you think is the “treasure in the jewelled skies” (line 7)?

7. What other rhetorical device is used repeatedly in lines 9-13, and what is its effect?

8. What do you think the “summer dream beneath the tamarind tree” (line 14) represents to the speaker, and what has happened to it?

Related Resources

“Sonnet: To Science” Poem and Discussion Questions (PDF)

Poems About Science

An Introduction to Poetry (including information about sonnets)

The Poetry Foundation: Edgar Allan Poe (Biography, poems, related content)

Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems
Amazon | Parnassus | Powell’s

PDF version

Notes and questions © 2009 and 2019 C. Brantley Collins, Jr.