Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Measurable and the unmeasurables

Alan Lightman has written a new book-length poem, Song of Two Worlds. If you don't know his work, you should check it out. He is an excellent novelist as well as a top-notch physicist. By the way, his technical writing is also very good. We used his book (co-written with Rybicki), Radiative Processes in Astrophysics, in our first year of graduate school and it provided a fantastic foundation. In case you are wondering how can he be so productive - well he doesn't use e-mail (what?!!).

Back to his book/poem, Song of Two Worlds. Here is a brief note from last week's Nature:
In Song of Two Worlds, he writes from the perspective of a man reassessing his life after a tragedy. Lightman splits his epic into two sections; in the first, he marvels at the measurable world, the glory of geometry and fact. In the second, he explores the unmeasurable, the pleasure and pain of love, the beauty of a sunset and the night sky. An excerpt from the latter section is reproduced here.

Excerpt from Song of Two Worlds

I am a fragment
That hurtles through space
While the breeze of the universe
Ruffles my hair.

Evening. I gaze
Through my telescope,
Searching the colors of stars.
Some are the hues of goats' wool,
Some ochre olive,
Or pink bougainvillea.

In chasms of space
I see stars born from gases,
Great thrumming furnaces oozing their heat,
Convective motions, electron opacities —
Elsewhere stars dying,
Cold cinders
Or giant explosions, eruptions of light,
Cities consumed in a nuclear blast,
Billions of years dimmed in a second.

I have learned
That the heavens are violent and fragile
And doomed to destruction,
Just as this thimble the earth.
All in the cosmos is failing,
And nothing remains,
And we measure the hour of the stars,
As I measure one morning's light.

Here, in the glass of this eyepiece.
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Absolutely love it! Here is a link to his book.

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