I have seen two-horned Venus
Travelling gently in the sky.
I have seen valleys and mountains on the Moon,
Saturn with its three bodies;
I, Galileo, first among humans,
Have seen four stars circle around Jupiter,
The Milky Way split into
Countless legions of new worlds.
I have seen, unbelieved, ominous spots
Foul the Sun’s face.
The spyglass was made by me,
A man of learning but with clever hands;
I’ve polished its lenses, aimed it at the Heavens
As you would aim a bombard.
I am the one who broke open the Sky
Before the Sun burned my eyes.
Before the Sun burned my eyes
I had to stoop to saying
I did not see what I saw.
The one who bound me to the earth
Did not unleash earthquakes or lightning.
His voice was subdued and smooth;
He had the face of everyman.
The vulture that gnaws me every evening
Has everyman’s face.
Primo Levi (1919-1987)
11 April 1984
*The Starry Messenger (Latin)
A letter from Marie Curie
The girl dying in New Jersey
barely glances at the foreign words
but she likes the stamp.
It is a kind of pale blue
she hasn’t seen much of.
The lawyer who brought the letter
talks of a famous scientist
who found the magic ingredient
that made the clockfaces she painted
shine in the dark. He doesn’t say
that each lick of the brush
took a little more radium
into her bones, that in
sixteen hundred years
if anything remained of her
it would still be half as radioactive
as the girl is now,
thumbing through the atlas
she asked her sister to borrow.
He explains that Marie Curie
is anaemic too, but the girl
isn’t listening. She’s found France;
it’s not so big. The lawyer shrugs:
She says to eat plenty of raw calves’ liver.
In the microscope
Here too are dreaming landscapes,
Here too are the masses,
tillers of the soil.
And cells, fighters
who lay down their lives
for a song.
Here too are cemeteries,
Fame and snow.
And I hear murmuring,
The revolt of immense estates.
Miroslav Holub (1923-1998)
from Auguries of Innocence
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.
William Blake (1757-1827)
Who has seen the Wind?
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.
Christina Rossetti (1830–1894)
More Funny Ideas About Grandeur
(Down House 1844)
‘To Emma, in case of my sudden death.
I have just finished this sketch
of my species theory. If true, as I believe,
it will be a considerable step
in science. My most solemn last request
is that you devote 400 pounds to its publication.’
‘There is a grandeur if you look
at every organic being
as the lineal successor to some other form,
now buried under thousands of feet of rock.
Or else as a co-descendant, with that buried form,
from some other inhabitant of this world
more ancient still, now lost.
Out of famine, death and struggle for existence,
comes the most exalted end
we’re capable of conceiving: creation
of the highest animals!
Our first impulse is to disbelieve –
how could any secondary law
produce organic beings, infinitely numerous,
characterized by most exquisite
workmanship and adaptation?
Easier to say, a Creator designed each.
But there is a simpler grandeur in this view –
that life, with its power to grow, to reach, feel,
reproduce, diverge, was breathed
into matter in a few forms first
and maybe only one. To say that while this planet
has gone cycling on
according to fixed laws of gravity,
from so simple an origin, through selection
Of infinitesimal varieties, endless forms
most beautiful and wonderful
have been, and are being, evolved.’
When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
These poems are all related to science in some way.
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