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After Reading a Child's Guide to Modern Physics -- W H Auden

Guest poem sent in by Zenobia Driver
(Poem #1450) After Reading a Child's Guide to Modern Physics
 If all a top physicist knows
 About the Truth be true,
 Then, for all the so-and-so's,
 Futility and grime,
 Our common world contains,
 We have a better time
 Than the Greater Nebulae do,
 Or the atoms in our brains.

 Marriage is rarely bliss
 But, surely it would be worse
 As particles to pelt
 At thousands of miles per sec
 About a universe
 Wherein a lover's kiss
 Would either not be felt
 Or break the loved one's neck.

 Though the face at which I stare
 While shaving it be cruel
 For, year after year, it repels
 An ageing suitor, it has,
 Thank God, sufficient mass
 To be altogether there,
 Not an indeterminate gruel
 Which is partly somewhere else.

 Our eyes prefer to suppose
 That a habitable place
 Has a geocentric view,
 That architects enclose
 A quiet Euclidian space:
 Exploded myths - but who
 Could feel at home astraddle
 An ever expanding saddle?

 This passion of our kind
 For the process of finding out
 Is a fact one can hardly doubt,
 But I would rejoice in it more
 If I knew more clearly what
 We wanted the knowledge for,
 Felt certain still that the mind
 Is free to know or not.

 It has chosen once, it seems,
 And whether our concern
 For magnitude's extremes
 Really become a creature
 Who comes in a median size,
 Or politicizing Nature
 Be altogether wise,
 Is something we shall learn.
-- W H Auden
Note: As the son of a physicist, Auden had an enduring interest in science and
the moral issues surrounding it.
   -- http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/poetry/outloud/auden.shtml

I could not resist a poem called 'After Reading a Child's Guide to Modern
Physics'. Never read a poem like this before - that compared one's life to
the way it would be if one was a nebula or one were an atom. (BTW can a
nebula or an atom have an identity? So 'one' in the sense of 'me' could
never be a nebula right? Anyway. )  The first time I read the poem I
couldn't stop grinning at consequences of the lovers kiss. And the lines 'but
who/ Could feel at home astraddle/ An ever expanding saddle?' totally grabbed
me. They are just too cool - the idea of some astronomical body feeling
uncomfortable because it was being stretched as the universe expanded was a
nice quirky way to think of the big bang theory. Wish he had taken a shot at
some more science theories - Darwinism would have been interesting I think.

Regards,
Zenobia D. Driver

[Links]

Auden's reading of the poem here:
  http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/poetry/outloud/auden.shtml

26 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Alan S Kornheiser said...

Dear Martin,

You published this extremely minor Auden and not any of Updike's scientific
romances? Shame on you. Well, not really, since I hadn't known the poem and
any Auden is better than no Auden, and I'm not volunteering to dig out my
old Updike and in fact I find them too cute by half...but still.

Alan Kornheiser
Who just wanted you to know that someone is paying attention

Anonymous said...

I read that his father was actually a physician - aka worked in medicine and not a physicist.

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