Project MICRO



Poems and Quotations About the MicroWorld

Project MICRO, MSA's educational outreach program, asked the subscribers to the MSA "Microscopy" listserver, a worldwide list of over 4,000, to submit their favorite quotations from the great and not-so-great for use in MICRO'S manual, Microscopic Explorations. The response was amazing; there are far too many to use in the manual, and they're much too good to throw away. They are presented here for your enjoyment. They were contributed for nonprofit educational use, from clippings pinned on lab walls all over the world; please don't use them for commercial purposes. We welcome further contributions.

  1. Robert Hooke, in Micrographia ,1665 [the first "microscope book"]:

    "For the limits to which our thoughts are confind, are small in respect of the vast extent of Nature itself; some parts of it are too large to be comprehended and some too little to be perceived. And from thence it must follow, that not having a full sensation of the Object, we must be very lame and imperfect in our conceptions about it, and in all the propositions which we build upon it; hence we often take the shadow of things for the subftance, small appearances for good similitudes, similitudes for definitions; and even many of those which we think to be the most solid definitions, are rather expressions of our own misguided apprehensions then of the true nature of the things themselves. ....."

    ..."The texture of Cells of Cork and of some other frothy Bodies could not be so curious, but that possible, if I could use some further diligence, I might find it to be discernable with a Microscope. ... me thinks, it seems very probable, that Nature has in these passages, as well as in those of Animal bodies, very many appropriated Instruments and contrivances, whereby to bring her designs and end to pass, which not improbable, but that some diligent Observer, if helped by Microscopes, may in time detect. "

    " the help of Microscopes, there is nothing so small, as to escape our inquiry; hence there is a new visable World discovered to the understanding

    ....By this the Earth it self, which lyes so near us, under our feet, shews quite a new thing to us, and in every little particle of its matter, we now behold almost as great a variety of Creatures, as we were able before to reckon up in the Whole Universe it self....

  2. Manfred Von Heimendahl in his introduction to Electron Microscopy of Materials,1980:

    "Seeing is Believing".

  3. Henri Poincare [French mathematician; late 1800s] :

    "The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it; and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful."

    " It is because simplicity and vastness are bothe beautiful that we seek by preference simple facts and vast facts; that we take delight, now in scrutinizing with a microscope that prodigious smallness which is also a vastness..."

    ( For more in that vein see: S. Chandrasekhar "Beauty and the quest for beauty in science" Physics Today July, 1979)

  4. Dr. W.W. Mayo, 1930, the founder of the Mayo Clinic and the father of the 'Mayo Brothers' needed a microscope for his medical practice. At a cost of $600 (in the early 1900's) this would mean he and his wife would have to put a mortgage on their house to obtain the microscope. His wife decided the issue by saying that if the microscope would help him to give greater service to his patients, he should have it.

    [now the quote:] "The difficulty of securing the microscope and its value as an aid to the practice of medicine gave it unusual value in our eyes, and perhaps for that reason Charles and I, even as children, became expert in its use." 1930.

  5. Alexander Pope, 1733:
    Why has not Man a microscopic eye?
    For this plain reason, Man is not a Fly.
    Say what the use, were finer optics giv'n,
    T' inspect a mite, not comprehend the heav'n.

  6. Voltaire in Micromegas:

    "One can be fooled by appearances, which happens only too frequently, whether one uses a microscope or not."

  7. James Thurber in "University Days", a chapter in in My Life and Hard Times:

    "We'll try it," the professor said to me, grimly, ' with every adjustment of the microscope known to man. As God is my witness, I'll arrange this glass so that you see cells through it or I'll give up teaching. In twenty-two years of botany, I -' He cut off abruptly for he was beginning to quiver all over, like Lionel Barrymore, and he genuinely wished to hold onto his temper; his scenes with me had taken a great deal out of him.

    So we tried it with every adjustment of the microscope known to man. With only one of them did I see anything but blackness or the familiar lacteal opacity, and that time I saw, to my pleasure and amazement, a variegated constellation of flecks, specks, and dots. These I hastily drew. The instructor, noting my activity, came back from an adjoining desk, a smile on his lips and his eyebrows high in hope. He looked at my cell drawing. "What's that?" he demanded, with a hint of a squeal in his voice. "That's what I saw, " I said. "You didn't, you didn't, you didn't!," he screamed, losing control of his temper instantly, and he bent over and squinted into the microscope. His head snapped up. "That's your eye!" he shouted. "You've fixed the lens so that it reflects! You've drawn your eye!"

  8. Henry Baker, Chapter 15,"Cautions in viewing Objects" of The Microscope Made Easy, 1742 [A popular book in its time]:

    "Beware of determining and declaring your opinion suddenly on any object; for imagination often gets the start of judgment, and makes people believe they see things, which better observations will convince them could not possibly be seen; therefore assert nothing till after repeated experiments and examinations in all lights and in all positions.

    When you employ the microscope, shake off all prejudice, nor harbor any favorite opinions; for, if you do, 'tis not unlikely fancy will betray you into error, and make you see what you wish to see.

    Remember that truth alone is the matter that you are in search after; and if you have been mistaken, let not vanity seduce you to persist in your mistake.

    Pass no judgment upon things over-extended by force, or contracted by dryness, or in any manner out of their natural state, without making suitable allowances.

    There is no advantage in examining any object with a greater magnifier than what shows the same distinctly..."

  9. Glenn Richards, University of Minnesota, microscopy instructor [circa 1980]:

    "There are many microscopes, but few microscopists."

  10. Charles Shillaber [Author of the "classic" LM text, circa 1950]:

    "The microscope with its accessories is by far the least understood, the most inefficiently operated, and the most abused of all laboratory instruments"

  11. Victor Hugo, Book 3 Chap. 3 of Les Miserables:

    "Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two has the grander view?

    And in another chapter of Les Mis:

    "Philosophy is the microscope of thought."

  12. Adrianus Pijper, South African Journal of Science 26:58-72 (1939):(The microscope is) "man's noblest, supreme, and most far-reaching tool." [Just BEFORE electron microscopy.]

  13. E. M. Chamot, J. Appl. Microscopy 2: 502 (1899):

    "It is rather remarkable how slow American chemists have been in realizing the importance of the microscope as an adjunct to every chemical laboratory.... (The microscope is) as much a necessity in every analytical laboratory as is the balance." [Note the date; still true.]

  14. Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) Poems, Second Series ca 1880:

    Faith is a fine invention
    For gentlemen to see;
    But microscopes are prudent
    In an emergency.

  15. K'ang Yu-wei (1858-1927) Ta T'ung Shu: The One-world Philosophy of K'ang Yu-wei transl. L.G. Thompson,1958:

    "In the age of One World, the power of the microscope will be one doesn't know how many times greater that that of [the instrument of] today.

    [Viewed through the instrument of today] an ant looks like an elephant.

    [Viewed through the instrument of the future], the size of a microbe will be like that of the great, skyborne p'eng bird."

  16. Theodore Roszak Where the Wasteland Ends (1972) :

    "Nature composes some of her loveliest music for the microscope and telescope."

  17. Peter Sewell ((president of an electron emitter company),1984. (Personal conversation on the event of the writer being hired for a position in Peter's electron microscopy lab. The only marginally relevant experience he had at the time was at an astrophysical observatory.)

    "A microscope is the same as a telescope - you just point a microscope down."

  18. Woody Allen, quoted at the beginning of B.A. Palevitz et al. Protoplasma 109:23-55 (1981):

    "...can the human soul be glimpsed through a microscope? Maybe, but you'd definitely need one of those very good ones with two eyepieces."

  19. Lawrence (Yogi) Berra, as quoted in Sports Illustrated 60(14):94, 2 April 1984 , quoted at the beginning of B.A. Palevitz and P.K. Hepler Planta 164:473-479 (1985)

    "You can observe a lot by watching."

  20. Maxine Kumin, The Microscope [the full text of Kumin's 1963 children's book with the same title]:

    "Anton Leeuwenhoek was Dutch
    He sold pincushions, cloth, and such.
    The waiting townsfolk fumed and fussed
    As Anton's drygoods gathered dust.

    He worked, instead of tending store,
    At grinding special lenses for
    A microscope. Some of the things
    He looked at were:

    mosquitoes' wings
    the hairs of sheep, the legs of lice,
    the skin of people, dogs, and mice;
    ox eyes, spiders' spinning gear,
    fishes' scales, a little smear
    of his own blood,

    and best of all,
    the unknown, busy, very small
    bugs that swim and bump and hop
    inside a simple water drop.

    Impossible! Most Dutchmen said.
    This Anton's crazy in the head.
    We ought to ship him off to Spain.
    He says he's seen a housefly's brain.
    He says the water that we drink
    is full of bugs. He's mad, we think!
    They called him dumkopf, which means dope.
    That's how we got the microscope."

  21. William Shakespeare [Out of context, of course]

    A Midsummer Night's Dream:
    "And as imagination bodies forth
    the forms of things unknown,
    the...pen turns them to shapes,
    and gives to airy nothing
    a local habitation, and a name."

    "I have the not, and yet I see thee still,
    Art thou not sensible to feeling as to sight?

    Or art thou but...a false creation?
    I see thee yet, in form as palpable
    as this which now I draw.
    Thou marshal'st me on the way that I was going,
    and such an instrument I was to use.
    Mine eyes are made the fools of the other senses,
    or else worth all the rest."

  22. William Blake:
    "To see a world in a grain of sand
    and a heaven in a wild flower,
    hold infinity in the palm of your hand
    and eternity in an hour."

  23. Anonymous Californian:
    In days of old, those far off times
    of high romance and magic,
    A toad was an enchanted prince,
    A transformation tragic.

    Today the toad is studied as
    A scientific topic
    No prince is found, although we look
    With vision microscopic.
    And yet, the prince is there - he's there
    As clearly as can be.
    Forget your microscope, my friend,
    And use your eyes to see!"

  24. e. e. cummings:
    pity this busy monster, manunkind,

    not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
    your victim(death and life safely beyond)
    plays with the bigness of his littleness
    - electrons deify one razorblade
    into a mountainrange; lenses extend
    unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
    returns in its unself.

    A world of made
    is not a world of born - pity poor flesh

    and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this
    fine specimen of hypermagical
    ultraomnipotence. We doctors know
    a hopeless case if - listen: there's a hell
    of a good universe next door; let's go"

  25. Daniel Mazia, U.C.Berkeley cell biologist, shortly before his death in 1996:

    "The gifts of microscopes to our understanding of cells and organisms is so profound that one has to ask: What are the gifts of the microscopist? Here is my opinion. The gift of the great microscopist is the ability to THINK WITH THE EYES AND SEE WITH THE BRAIN. Deep revelations into the nature of living things continue to travel on beams of light."

  26. Ned Yeomans, Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School:

    "An Ultrastructural Sonnet

    In sombre beauty in her room she broods;
    Tis night-and all her pumps are deathly still,
    And thus she slumbers peacefully, until
    The morn, when unkind amperes end this interlude.

    With steady beat her motors wheeze and keen,
    Industrious vapours drain the inner core,
    That Bohr's electrons shortly will explore,
    In headlong torrent downward to her screen.

    What truths does she uncover with her beam?
    How much is artefact produced by man,

    And how much really fits into the plan
    Of nature? That believed is easily seen!

    But even if she may promote confusion,
    It is at least an elegant illusion."

  27. Iain Probert to his sister, Elaine Humphrey (after some of her micrographs had been used on the TV show X-Files), 1997:

    "A Christmas Ode for the Scientifically Minded

    Twas the night before Christmas
    And deep in the lab
    Something came crawling
    From under a slab
    it crawled to the agar
    To take a peek
    At all the bacteria
    Lying asleep
    it slithered through the jelly
    (as icky things do)
    Depositing slime
    And gobbets of goo
    Moving on to the 'scope'
    With a single aim
    To spell out a message
    Addressed to Elaine
    Dear Human' it wrote
    With some ink from a gland
    'Forgot your card,
    Please understand'
    Having studied your kind
    And obtained my degree
    On a theses titled
    'Humans and their relations with me'
    I find that you pry
    Into all that we do
    Without recognising
    We need privacy too!
    You took photos
    of each of my chums
    All of my aunties
    Each of my sons
    You sold these photos to some t.v. show
    Keeping the money
    Isn't that so ?
    If you use our photos, to give others a fright
    You really don't know us
    For it is simply not right !
    Now that we've informed you
    Please make amends
    Or we'll consult our lawyers
    Messrs S Bends
    We'll put an end to your scary sights
    By wearing bright colours
    And thick woolly tights
    Viruses and bacteria
    Will aim to be cute
    And all of your ventures
    Will go down the chute
    But heck, as it's Christmas
    We'll give you a break
    Here is one scary picture
    And it isn't a fake !
    Out of pouch, it took with a sigh,
    Its favourite photo
    Of Elaine's right eye!"

  28. Hilaire Belloc, in More Beasts for Worse Children:


    The Microbe is so very small
    You cannot make him out at all,
    But many sanguine people hope
    To see him down a microscope.
    His jointed tongue that lies beneath
    A hundred curious rows of teeth;
    His seven tufted tails with lots
    Of lovely pink and purple spots,
    On each of which a pattern stands,
    Composed of forty separate bands;
    His eyebrows of a tender green;
    All these have never yet been seen -
    But Scientists, who ought to know,
    Assure us they must be so ...
    Oh! Let us never, never doubt
    What nobody is sure about!

  29. Jonathan Swift:
    So, naturalists observe, a flea
    Hath smaller fleas that on him prey;
    And these have smaller still to bite 'em;
    And so proceed ad infinitum.
    Thus every poet in his kind,
    Is bit by him that comes behind.

  30. Which has been anonymously corrupted to:
    Great fleas have little fleas
    Upon their backs to bite 'em
    And little fleas have lesser fleas
    And so ad infinitum."

  31. These are the words of the judge in an English court case (involving the classification of coal) in which expert microscopist testimony was called upon. The Lord President, Torbanehill Case, 1853, quoted recently in the McCrone journal, The Microscope:

    "....but one general remark may be made on the microscopic testimony, and it is, that there are those who see a thing, and also those who do not see it -- those who do see it, cannot see it unless it is there, and those who cannot see it do not see it at all. But very skillful persons looking for a thing and not seeing it, creates a strong presumption that it is not there. But when other persons do find it, it goes far to displace the notion it is not there."

  32. Found in a fortune cookie:

    "If I hadn't believed it, I never would have seen it."

  33. Nestor J. Zaluzec:

    "Micro Carols

    Electron Beams, Ion Beams, Photons on the Way...

    Dashing down the column
    traveling at hundreds of K.
    Through the sample they go
    scattering along the way.
    Mag and Beam up high
    making screens glow bright
    Oh what fun it is to see - atoms- day or night.

    Electron Beams, Ion Beams, Photons on the Way!
    Oh what fun it is to be, in the E-M-C to-day
    T-E-M's, S-E-M's, Op-ti-cal scopes too!
    Scru-ti-nizing matter is what we love to do.
    E-D-S., E-L-S., Auger spectra too!
    Analyzing data it's all in store for you.
    Macrographs, Micrographs, computed pictures too!
    Far too many pixels - to know with, what to do!

    Electron Beams, Ion Beams, Photons on the Way!
    Oh what fun it is to see - atoms- day or night.
    Electron Beams, Ion Beams, Photons on the Way!

    Merry Christmas from all of Us - and a Happy New Year too."

  34. Charles Kingley in Glaucus or the Wonders of the Shore, 1855

    Do not despise the creatures
    because they are minute...
    doubt not that in these tiny
    creatures are mysteries more
    than we can ever fathom.

  35. Edwin Hubble, American astronomer

    "Equipped with our five senses - along with telescopes and microscopes and mass spectrometers and seismographs and magnetometers and particle accelerators and detectors sensitive to the entire electromagnetic spectrum - we explore the universe around us and call the adventure science."

  36. Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, 1930:

    "With every tool, man is perfecting his own organs, whether motor or sensory, or is removing the limits to their means of the microscope he overcomes the limits of visibility set by the structure of his retina."

  37. Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland:

    "All this time the Guard was looking at her, first through a telescope, then through a microscope, and then through an opera glass."

  38. Herman Melville, Inscription Epistolary to W.C.R.:

    "He is an optician, daily having to deal with the microscope, telescope, and other inventions for sharpening our natural sight, thus enabling us mortals (as I once heard an eccentric put it) liberally to enlarge the field of our essential ignorance."

  39. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860):

    "It is only in the microscope that our life looks so big."

  40. Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862):

    "Whether he sleeps or wakes, - whether he runs or walks, whether he uses a microscope or a telescope, or his naked eye, - a man never discovers anything, never overtakes anything, or leaves anything behind, but himself."

  41. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, 1701:

    "People who look for the first time through a microscope say now I see this and then I see that and even a skilled observer can be fooled. On these observations I have spent more time than many will believe, but I have done them with joy".

  42. Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Wilheim Meister's Travels (1829):

    "Microscopes and telescopes really confuse our minds."

  43. Kahil Gibran, A Handful of Sand on the Shore:

    "The eye of a human being is a microscope, which makes the world seem bigger than it really is."

  44. Lelio Orci & Michael Pepper, Microscopy and Art? In Nature Reviews, Feb. 2002:

    "As long as there is a hunger for knowledge and a deep desire to uncover the truth, microscopy will continue to unveil Mother Nature's deepest and most beautiful secrets."

  45. Larry Millett, writing as John H. Watson, M.D. in Sherlock Holmes and The Red Demon (1996):

    "I saw nothing," I said.
    "That is because, my friend, you were too busy looking at the scenery," said Holmes, who was putting his walking stick to good use, stabbing the ground at almost every step. "You take pleasure in the big picture, the grand view, the distant prospect. You are a tourist, Watson, whereas I am more interested in the small and particular, for the world is never more revealing than when it is studied in intimate detail."

  46. Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, 1836-37: Pickwick's servant, Sam, testifying in his master's breach-of-promise trial (chapter 34):

    "Yes, I have a pair of eyes," replied Sam, "and that's just it. If they wos a pair o' patent double million magnifyin' gas microscopes of hextra power, p'raps I might be able to see through a flight o' stairs and a deal door; but bein' only eyes, you may see my wision's limited."