Poetry and Science
Charting astronomy's emergence from religion, and the ties that bind them
By Shawn Lawrence Otto | May 27, 2011 | Comments (0)
The English poet Alfred Noyes was on hand on the night of November 1, 1917 as George Ellery Hale’s only invited guest for the dedication of the Hooker 100-inch telescope on the top of Mount Wilson, which Edwin Hubble would use to discover the expansion of the universe. “Your Milton's 'optic tube' has grown in power since Galileo,” Hale had written his friend. Hale ordered the giant telescope to be trained, like Galileo’s had been, on Jupiter and its moons.
The experience of being among the first to ever see those moons so clearly inspired Noyes to write his epic poem "Watchers of the Sky," which charts the long emergence of astronomy from religion, and yet their close kinship still.
The poet took a break shortly after midnight and wandered out onto the mountaintop in a state of near-rapture. I've been there at night and know how he felt. Almost all the tiny sparkling lights of the distant Los Angeles had vanished by then, and “the whole dark mountain seemed to have lost its earth and to be sailing like a ship through heaven.” His poem concluded:
When I consider the heavens, the work of Thy fingers,
The sun and the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained,
Though man be as dust I know Thou art mindful of him;
And, through Thy law, Thy light still visiteth him.
Here's the rest of his amazing poem.
Tags: Poetry, Art, Astronomy, Religion