In looking back on the past year, I keep returning to The Universe in Verse as a singular highlight — that labor-of-love celebration of the common ground between poetry and science, standing as a contemporary testament to Wordsworth’s insistence that “poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge [and] the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all Science.”
While revisiting the readings from the show — poems celebrating the Hubble Space Telescope, the number pi, the legacy of trailblazing scientists like Marie Curie, Jane Goodall, and Caroline Herschel — I was reminded of a marvelous footnote by the Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman (May 11, 1918–February 15, 1988), speaking to the powerful dialogue between the scientific and the poetic worldviews.
In his legendary physics lectures from the early 1960s, Feynman argues that astronomy gave rise to physics by beckoning the human mind to contemplate the beautiful simplicity of celestial motions. “But the most remarkable discovery in all of astronomy,” he writes, “is that the stars are made of atoms of the same kind as those of earth.” (This discovery we owe chiefly to Cecilia…
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