Nikola Tesla in Budapest, 1881

The particular malady that now affected him was never diagnosed. One of the symptoms was an acute sensitivity of all the sense organs . . . this sensitivity was so tremendously exaggerated that its effects were a form of torture. —John J. O’Neal, Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla

I felt daylight flame beneath my skin.
The burning circuits of my veins
mapped each muscle.

I could scarcely stand the air,
its prickling static—
friction of dust and filament.

And for weeks
I lay in padded darkness.
Each Sunday
when the sound of church bells pounded,
memory’s waves rang through me:
I was the child
who watched his father rehearse sermons,
who climbed the bell tower
and pulled ropes in the rung sunlight
as rafters exploded with birds.

But how wrong I was
to fear and praise that dim god.

My father’s myths and hymns
told nothing of the ignited Christ,
God of the Charge
who gives no redemption.
My nerves have felt His currents,
the coil of His fury.
The universe crackles,
and all His thoughts combust into spun stars.


Kevin Meaux
from Myths of Electricity
Texas Review Press, 2005
Reprinted with permission of the poet


For a Science Class

Lesson Plan for Kevin Meaux’s “Nikola Tesla in Budapest, 1881”
by Laurie A. Williams

Have students read the poem in class.

Have them look for information that can be explained scientifically.

What is being described in the first strophe (the first three lines)?

How do nerves work to send impulses to the muscles?

What happens in the second strophe (lines 4-6)?

What creates static in the air?

How does that static get discharged?

Can static transfer from the air to the body?

How does electricity flow?

What impedes electric flow and what enhances it?

What happens in lines 7-11?

How does sound move?

What impedes the movement of sound and what enhances it?

How do sound waves differ from electric waves?

Who was Nikola Tesla?

What did he invent?

Have students research electrical experiments in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. PBS has a nice website to go along with its documentary on Tesla titled Tesla: Master of Lighting at

For an English Class

Lesson Plan for Kevin Meaux’s “Nikola Tesla in Budapest, 1881”
by Laurie A. Williams

This is a good poem to look at imagery and figurative language.

Read the poem aloud to students.

Then pass out the poem and have students read it to themselves. As they are reading, have students look for examples of imagery and figurative language and underline imagery and box or circle figurative language.

image—sound, sight, taste, smell, touch

figurative language—metaphor, simile, symbol, alliteration, personification, hyperbole, and any others you have discussed with your class.

In pairs or groups, have students go over the imagery and figurative language they noted. See if students can assign the type of image (which senses) and type of figurative language.

Then have students use the imagery and figurative language from Mr. Meaux’s poem as a model for a creation of their own examples.

Have students create posters or glogs of their imagery and figurative language that also include definitions.

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