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Rigid Body Sings

    Gin a body meet a body
    Flyin' thro the air,
    Gin a body hit a body,
    Will it fly? And where?
    Ilka impact has its measure
    Ne'er a' ane hae I
    Yet a' the lads they measure me,
    Or, at least, they try.

    Gin a body meet a body
    Altogether free,
    How they travel afterwards
    We do not always see.
    Ilka problem has its method
    By analytics high;
    For me, I ken na ane o' them,
    But what the waur am I?

James Clerk Maxwell (1831- 1879)

Quite a character Maxwell was well known for talking to his dog about his scientific theories. What few people know however is that Maxwell was, from a very young age, a very keen and creative poet. A couple of biographers relate:

    About the middle of his school career however he surprised his companions by suddenly becoming one of the most brilliant among them, gaining prizes and sometimes the highest prizes for scholarship, mathematics, and English verse composition.
    -- J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Maxwell needs very little preamble - his eponymous "Maxwell's Equations" revolutionized electromagnetism, and a great deal of physics. The unit of magnetic flux, the maxwell was named in his honor. His work paved the way for the investigations of Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, which produced electromagnetic waves in the atmosphere and experimentally corroborated Maxwell’s theories and another German physicist Max Planck believed that:
    "His name stands magnificently over the portal of classical physics, and we can say this of him; by his birth James Clerk Maxwell belongs to Edinburgh, by his personality he belongs to Cambridge, by his work he belongs to the whole world."
Originally titled In Memory of Edward Wilson, Who Repented of what was in his Mind to Write after Section the poem is a parody of Robert Burns' "Comin Thro' the Rye." Some researchers think that it may have been initially read at a Mathematics and Physics meeting of the British Association. Composed for a friend it has made its way into some anthologies of light verse. The original text appeared in The Life of James Clerk Maxwell, with a selection from his correspondence and occasional writings and a sketch of his contributions to science and was published in 1882.

'Rigid Body' doesn't get as technical as some of Maxwell's other poems, but it's one of his most popular as well as one of his most delightful. The Rigid body's rational look at the scientists and their analytics strikes a perfect balance between good-natured humore with sedate seriousness, and comes to an end with a rhyme commendable of Robert Burns himself. All in all, very charming.

His greatest work is Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism (1873); other works include Theory of Heat (1877) and Matter and Motion. Born on Edinburgh on June 13th, 1831, Maxwell died at Cambridge on November 5th, 1879.


Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Maxwell, James Clark," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.

Public domain text taken from Representative Poetry Online:

805 Rigid Body Sings:

RPO -- James Clerk Maxwell : In Memory of Edward Wilson:

CST Approved.

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