Discussion questions and related resources for the poem "Science" by Robinson Jeffers

Man, introverted man, having crossed
In passage and but a little with the nature of things this latter century
Has begot giants; but being taken up
Like a maniac with self-love and inward conflicts cannot manage his hybrids.
Being used to deal with edgeless dreams,
Now he’s bred knives on nature turns them also inward: they have thirsty points though.
His mind forebodes his own destruction;
Actæon who saw the goddess naked among leaves and his hounds tore him.
A little knowledge, a pebble from the shingle,
A drop from the oceans: who would have dreamed this infinitely little too much?

Questions for Discussion and Writing

1. What tone does the speaker express toward science?  Discuss the aspects of the poem’s style that convey this tone.

2. In the context of the poem, what is the significance of the speaker’s description of humankind as “introverted man” (line 1)?

3. In context, what is “the nature of things” (line 2), and what does it mean that man has “crossed” it?  What does it mean that man has “begot giants” (line 3), and what literary devices does this expression contain?

4. What do you think it means that man is “taken up…with self-love and inward conflicts” (line 4)?  What do you think “his hybrids” might be, and what does it mean that he “cannot manage” them?

5. What are “edgeless dreams” (line 5), and why are the dreams of man no longer edgeless?  Discuss the literary devices used in line 6 to develop this image, including a mixed metaphor.  What does the speaker mean when he says that man “turns them also inward” and that they “have thirsty points”?

6. What literary device is used in line 8, and what idea does the speaker convey with it?  In the context of the poem, what do the “naked goddess” and the hounds represent?

7. What idea do the metaphors “a pebble” and “a drop” help express?  What literary devices are used in line 10, and what irony does this line express?

Related Resources

Poems About Science (PDF)

The Poetry Foundation: Robinson Jeffers (Biography, poems, related content)

Robinson Jeffers: Selected Poems
Amazon | Parnassus | Powell’s

The Wild God of the World: An Anthology of Robinson Jeffers
Amazon | Parnassus | Powell’s

Selected Poems contains this poem; The Wild God of the World is a good anthology that is also available as an e-book.

PDF version

Questions © 2009 C. Brantley Collins, Jr.