In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star in which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the haughtiest and most mendacious minute of “world history”- yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.
One might invent such a fable and still not have illustrated sufficiently how wretched, how shadowy and flighty, how aimless and arbitrary, the human intellect appears in nature. There have been eternities when it did not exist; and when it is done for again, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no further mission that would lead beyond human life. It is human, rather, and only its owner and producer gives it such importance, as if the world pivoted around it. But if we could communicate with the mosquito, then we would learn that it floats through the air with the same self-importance, feeling within itself the flying center of the world. There is nothing within nature so despicable or insignificant that it cannot immediately be blown up like a bag by a slight breath of this power of knowledge; and just as every porter wants an admirer, the proudest human being, the philosopher, thinks that he sees the eyes of the universe telescopically focused on all sides on his actions and thoughts.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Excerpt from “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense” found in The Portable Nietzsche. New York: Penguin, 1982. pp 42-43.
Not a poem, but one of the most beautiful sights in this cosmos.
Ah! why, because the dazzling sun
Restored our Earth to joy,
Have you departed, every one,
And left a desert sky?
All through the night, your glorious eyes
Were gazing down in mine,
And, with a full heart’s thankful sighs,
I blessed that watch divine.
I was at peace, and drank your beams
As they were life to me;
And revelled in my changeful dreams,
Like petrel on the sea.
Thought followed thought, star followed star,
Through boundless regions, on;
While one sweet influence, near and far,
Thrilled through and proved us one!
Why did the morning dawn to break
So great, so pure, a spell;
And scorch with fire the tranquil cheek,
Where your cool radiance fell?
Blood-red, he rose, and arrow-straight,
His fierce beams struck my brow;
The soul of nature sprang, elate,
But mine sank sad and low!
My lids closed down, yet through their veil
I saw him, blazing still,
And steep in gold the misty dale,
And flash upon the hill.
I turned me to the pillow, then,
To call back night, and see
Your worlds of solemn light, again,
Throb with my heart, and me!
It would not do- the pillow glowed,
And glowed both roof and floor;
And birds sang loudly in the wood,
And fresh winds shook the door;
The curtains waved, the wakened flies
Were murmuring round my room,
Imprisoned there, till I should rise,
And give them leave to roam.
Oh, stars, and dreams, and gentle night;
Oh, night and stars, return!
And hide me from the hostile light
That does not warm, but burn;
That drains the blood of suffering men;
Drinks tears instead of dew;
Let me sleep through his blinding reign,
And only wake with you!
Bronte, Emily. Poems of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell with Cottage Poems by Patrick Bronte. From The Works of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte in Twelve Volumes, Volume 8. London: J.M. Dent and Company, 1893. pp 79-81.
Gezari, Janet. Last Things: Emily Bronte’s Poems. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. pp 29-30.
*A great blog on all things Bronte here.
I remember how it was in the beginning.
The frightening excitement,
the depravity we’d only read about,
the swelling of dunes we thought
we were too old for,
that we had missed.
The love that buffets,
that hollows our skulls’ sockets
widens the possibility that it(we) may not exist.
So large, windy, vast
like staring at the other side of Saturn
through the eyes of the satellite
as it races to the outer edge
beyond our ears’ grasp.
The thrill is in the discovery.
We cannot live there.
First image found in
Todd, David. A New Astronomy. New York: American Book Company, 1906. p. 367.
Last three images found in
Kaufmann, WIlliam J. Universe. New York: WH Freeman and Company, 1991. pp. 284, 289, 290.
*This documentary is what stirred me to start this project. Voyager’s visit of Saturn starts at 24:20. The other side of Saturn starts at 30:30.
But her reality is something beautifully unexpected,
round and regular as the goddess herself
surprised at her bath.
Poem posted in its entirety here.
Image found in
Jenkins, Ian and Geoffrey B. Waywell. Sculptors and Sculpture of Caria and the Dodecanese. British Museum Press, 1997. Fig 154.
Drip into rivers; all feed the ocean;
Tides ebb and flow, but every year a little bit higher.
They will drown New York, they will drown London.
And this place, where I have planted trees and built a stone house,
Will be under sea. The poor trees will perish.
And little fish will flicker in and out the windows. I built it well,
Thick walls and Portland cement and gray granite,
The tower at least will hold against the sea’s buffeting; it will become
Geological, fossil and permanent.
What a pleasure it is to mix one’s mind with the geological
Time, or with astronomical relax it.
There is nothing like astronomy to pull the stuff out of man.
His stupid dreams and red-rooster importance: let him count the star-swirls.
Jeffers, Robinson. The Beginning and the End. New York: Random House, 1963. p. 18.
More information about Isaac Roberts here.
The heroic stars spending themselves,
Coining their very flesh into bullets for the lost battle,
They must burn out at length like used candles;
And Mother Night will weep in her triumph, taking home her heroes.
There is the stuff for an epic poem,
This magnificent raid at the heart of darkness, this lost battle-
We don’t know enough, we’ll never know.
Oh happy Homer, taking the stars and the gods for granted.
Jeffers, Robinson. The Beginning and the End. New York: Random House, 1963. p. 24.
Image found in
Warner, Deborah J. The Sky Explored: Celestial Cartography 1500-1800. New York: Alan R Liss, Inc., 1979. p.29.
Blaeu celestial globe here