James Clerk Maxwell

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879):
"To the Air of Lörelei" (1858)

When I was teaching Chemical Statistical Mechanics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (1978), I went to the library to read about the fathers of Statistical Mechanics— James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) and Ludwig Boltzmann (1844-1906). When I discovered that Galileo died (Jan. 8, 1642) the year Newton was born (Dec. 25, 1642), and Maxwell died (Nov. 5, 1879) the year Einstein was born (March 14, 1879), I thought there was some linkage of souls between the father of experimental science and the discoverer of gravitation as well as the discoverers of electromagnetism and relativity. Maxwell was the link between Newton and Einstein, and his four Maxwell Equations are often found on T-shirts of physics students. So when I found Maxwell's metaphysical poems in The Life of James Clerk Maxwell (1882) by Lewis Campbell, I was delighted. Maxwell's poems showed that he was a prophetic seer with insight on four-dimensional space and the expanding universe. In his meditations, Maxwell was in tune with the music of the spheres. Maxwell's vision inspired me and I shared his poems with my Statistical Mechanics students. (Peter Y. Chou)

To the Air of Lörelei (1858)


Alone on a hillside of heather,
I lay with dark thoughts in my mind,
In the midst of the beautiful weather
I was deaf, I was dumb, I was blind.
I knew not the glories around me,
I counted the world as it seems,
Till a spirit of melody found me,
And taught me in visions and dreams.


For the sound of a chorus of voices
Came gathering up from below,
And I heard how all Nature rejoices,
And moves with a musical flow.
O strange! we are lost in delusion,
Our ways and doings are wrong,
We are drowning, in wilful confusion,
The notes of that wonderful song.


But listen, what harmony holy
Is mingling its notes with our own!
The discord is vanishing slowly,
And melts in that dominant tone.
And they that have heard it can never
Return to confusion again,
Their voices are music for ever,
And join in the mystical strain.


No mortal can utter the beauty
That dwells in the song that they sing;
They move in the pathway of duty,
They follow the steps of their King.
I would barter the world and its glory,
That vision of joy to prolong,
Or to hear and remember the story
That lies in the heart of their song.

— James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879),
     "To the Air of Lörelei"
     Aberdeen, January 20, 1858

James Clerk Maxwell
   (Biography, Honours, Publications, References, Links)
Mathematicians: James Clerk Maxwell
   (Saturn Rings, Maxwell's House, Mathematical Physics, Obituary)

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