a Priestley sum

a Priestley sum

What we know of air is a Priestley sum;
makes an experimental masterpiece.
Through simple observation so we come
to learn from nature; wonders shall not cease:
that air might be exhausted then restored;
made stale and then repaired; broken then fixed.
Such are the problems science has explored,
mulled over, pondered on, and stood betwixt.
How so that the planet breathes, breath for breath,
exchanging one gas for another’s use?
How so that nature freshens the smell of death,
converts putrid soup into perfumed juice?
. Through unity all things are so divined.
. Make nothing separate as should be combined.

© Tim Grace, 25 November 2012

To the reader: Throughout life, Joseph Priestly (1733-1804) travelled an awkward, and often uncomfortable, path of self-discovery. A precocious child who absorbed knowledge with sponge-like thirst. A dissenting adult who, through deep faith, sought to unify humanity’s purposeful existence. A revered polymath constricted by dogma and intolerance; a disgruntled citizen. In sum, a brave soul who introduced the world to the deity of science and rational belief.

To the poet: Joseph Priestly was a great writer; a highly respected grammarian, alas it seems not a poet. My exposure to his masterful prosaic-skill was through his writing on the investigation of air; this kid knew how to write-up an experiment. The narrative style is intoxicating; refined and rugged… phlogisticated. The scientific brain exposed for his peers to pursue; and for all else to admire. Surely another canditate for membership of ‘The Science Class You Wish You Had…

Sonnet 4

Opposing Views

When opposing views are in dispute
on the basis of belief.
When lines of thought are resolute
and take no light relief.
Who’s to grow the compromise,
on a patch of common ground?
Who’s to build an enterprise,
so both be honour bound;
to set aside their differences,
and work to common cause,
emphasise the linkages
that life itself explores?
. In the earthly world, the natural world, opposites attract,
. But when it comes to make believe, the same is not a fact.

© Tim Grace, 21 February 2010


To the reader: The hardest part about living a belief is that reality often confronts the assumptions of those who believe. Acceptance of dual realities requires the insertion of an uncertainty clause into any belief system. This insertion doesn’t necessarily come easy or sit comfortably with believers who have invested heavily in the creation of a particular world view. If compromise and adaptation are the keys to survival, what’s the attraction of an inflexible belief?


To the poet: The simple symmetry of the first two couplets makes an easy entry into this sonnet. The next eight lines ponder the traits of who might offer a solution to the fragility of belief. The use of ‘who’ suggests a singular being; a wise sage. Regardless of the entity’s wisdom, the final couplet contrasts the difference between a natural and synthetic solution. The lines in the last couplet are long (fourteen syllables each) but they have a rhythmical emphasis that rounds off the sonnet with a neat conclusion.