Tuesday Poem – A World Made by Atomes by Margaret Cavendish

A World made by Atomes

by Margaret Cavendish, 1653

SMall Atomes of themselves a World may make,
As being subtle, and of every shape:
And as they dance about, fit places finde,
Such Formes as best agree, make every kinde.
For when we build a house of Bricke, and Stone,
We lay them even, every one by one:
And when we finde a gap that’s big, or small,
We seeke out Stones, to fit that place withall.
For when not fit, too big, or little be,
They fall away, and cannot stay we see.
So Atomes, as they dance, finde places fit,
They there remaine, lye close, and fast will sticke.
Those that unfit, the rest that rove about,
Do never leave, untill they thrust them out.
Thus by their severall Motions, and their Formes,
As severall work-men serve each others turnes.
And thus, by chance, may a New World create:
Or else predestined to worke my Fate.

Margaret Cavendish


Today, I came across a fascinating bunch of “atomic poems” by Margaret Cavendish (born Margaret Lucas), Duchess of Newcastle.   Born in 1623, she went on to write many books, poems and plays, including works of science fiction and the series of poems about atoms.  The poems mightn’t be that great individually, but it’s the fact that she wrote them at all, particularly in the seventeenth century, that I find so interesting. 

Her theories about atoms include atoms coming in four types: “Square flat Atomes” that make up earth, “Round Atomes” that make up water, “Long streight Atomes” that make up air and “Sharp Atomes” that make up fire.

Apparently she was the first woman invited to attend the Royal Society (three hundred years before the second) and was treated to demonstrations of the weighing of air, the dissolution of mutton in sulphuric acid, magnetic power, Robert Boyle’s theory of colors, and Robert Hooke’s microscope.

More about her here and here


  1. Thanks for posting this, Janis! I first heard of Margaret Cavendish via Kathleen Jones, and have been wanting to read something by her – this further whets my appetite. It’s an elegant poem.

  2. Yes, Tim – me too. Kathleen has written a biography of Margaret Cavendish which I would love to get my hands on. Any idea how is she related to the Cavendish who weighed the density of the earth (I posted a poem on him some months back)? Very exciting to read this poem Janis and great to see her picture too.

  3. I love the double ll’s and the e’s everywhere and the whole old fashioned feel – maybe I should find some more 17th C poetry. I love the air of mystique and wonder as she plays with the building blocks of the universe – even if as you say the poems not “that great” .

  4. Hi Janis – how lovely to see a poem of Margaret’s here! She is so rarely read, but is wonderful. Wierdly I found a copy of my biography (A Glorious Fame) in the second hand book fair in Wellington a few months ago. How on earth did it get to New Zealand?

  5. Hi – your portrait is not of this Margaret Cavendish, it is her great-granddaughter Margaret Cavendish Harley, Duchess of Portland, painted by Zincke in 1738.

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