What makes a spark of fire to burn more quick
Than a great flame? Because ’tis small to stick.
For fire itself is in its nature dry,2
Falls into parts as crowds of atoms lie.
The sharpest atoms keep the body hot; 5
To give out heat some atoms forth are shot.
Sometimes the sparks for anger fly about,3
Or, wanting room, do thrust the weakest4out.
They are so sharp, that what they meet, devour56
If other atoms them not overpower:7 10
As ants, though8 small, will eat up a dead horse,
So atoms sharp use9 bodies of less force.
Thus atoms sharp grow10 sharper by degrees,
As stings in flies are not so sharp as bees’.
And when they meet a body solid, flat, 15
The weakest fly; the sharpest work on that.
Those that are not so sharp do fly about
To seek some lighter matter to eat11 out.
Thus12 lighter atoms do turn air13 to flame,
Because more thin and porous is the same. 20
Thus flame is not so hot as burning coal:14
The atoms are too weak to take fast hold.15
The sharpest into firmest bodies fly,
But if their strength be small, they quickly die.
Or if their number be not great, but small, 25
The blunter atoms beat and quench out all.
- In 1653 this poem is called “What Atoms Make Fire to Burn, and What Flame.”
- fire itself is in its nature dry,] Fire of it selfe, it is so dry, 1653
- the sparks for anger fly about,] for anger, the Sparkes do flye about; 1653
- Or, wanting room, do thrust the weakest] Or want of roome, the weakest are thrust 1653; Or want of room do thrust the VVeakest 1664
- that what they meet, devour] that whatsoere they meet, 1653
- A marginal note in Cavendish’s text reads: “This is, when some atoms overpower others by their numbers, for they cannot change their forms.”
- If other atoms them not overpower:] If not orepowr’d, by other Atomes, eate: 1653
- though] which 1653
- use] on 1653
- Thus atoms sharp grow] Thus Atomes sharpe, yet 1653; And being Sharp, grow 1664; And, being sharp, grow 1668
- To seek some lighter matter to eat] And seek to eat some lighter matter 1664, 1668
- Thus] So 1653
- do turne Aire] Air do turn 1664, 1668
- Thus flame is not so hot as burning coal:] And being light and weak fast hold to take, 1664; And being light and weak, fast hold to take, 1668
- The atoms are too weak to take fast hold.] Hotter a Burning Coal than Flame do make. 1664; Hotter a Burning Coal, than Flame do make. 1668