Thomas Edison has been connected to poetry in many ways. He was both a reader and, occasionally, a writer of poetry (albeit of a surrealistic sort). He loved Shakespeare and was partial to Longfellow. He also had poets, such as Browning and Tennyson, recorded on the phonograph reading their own works. Edison inspired poets, too, including Horatio Powers, Carl Sandburg, and Charles Cros, to write about him and his work. Among those so inspired recently was the late Clifford H. Tyler, who penned a series of poems prompted by visits to both Edison's house in Llewellyn Park and the Edison Laboratory in West Orange. These take the form of imaginative conversations with the inventor. As Mr. Tyler's partner Marcie Lopez has noted, "Cliff's poetic imagination was fired about Edison when I rented a house in Llewellyn Park. We started going for walks in the park and came across Edison's house, which was like Oz on the horizon from my rental. We were instantly smitten, marveled at his home, his grounds, his grave." According to Ms. Lopez, Mr. Tyler wrote at least some of his poems immediately on the grounds of Glenmont, the Edison estate. "We would sit in the nook of one tree by the stone stairs while Cliff wrote and I drew his house and grounds."
Mr. Tyler, a native of Passaic, N.J., enjoyed the distinction of having been delivered at birth by the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet William Carlos Williams, who was also for forty years a pediatrician and general practitioner in Rutherford, N.J. Mr. Tyler earned a degree in civil engineering in 1954 from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and, after a stint in the army in Korea, worked as a project manager for the Turner Construction Co., New York. He later owned his own firm—Construction Management Services. Once he retired, Mr. Tyler returned to school to pursue his life-long interest in poetry and at the age of 82 earned an M.F.A. degree in Poetry and Poetry in Translation from Drew University.
Two of Mr. Tyler's Edison-inspired poems are published below:
A HIGHER POWER
Most assuredly I do [believe in God.]Nature and science both affirm His existence,and where the layman believes,The man of science knows.-Thomas Edison interviewHome and Country 1895
The more I examine your life, Thomas,
the more I see the connection
to the supernatural. The story of creation—
a week easy as a million years. Your faith,
in the Scriptures of the limitless universe,
irrevocable as any natural law. God,
in darkness, worked for three days, then
created the sun. Perhaps you believed
you too could, in the vacuum of a deaf ear,
duplicate the light. The Prophet Elijah
prayed again and again to end the drought
before hearing a static of rain opening
across the desert, well before it arrived.
TIGER LILLIESDear Mr. Edison,
On rare occasions, connection
is possible between us, a circuit
closing, the dizzy arc of a baseball
tossed from father to son,
and you ever present beneath the cut grass
of your modest grave. We felt you
speak to us as the leaves moved in their trees and the orange tongues
of tiger lillies described the day.
The casual blossoms opening above
a synaptic tangle of roots and bulbs.