Among the thousands of people around the world watching the livestream of the inaugural Universe in Verse was one spectator who would become a centerpiece of the show the following year: Natalie Batalha — an astrophysicist involved in the search for life on planets orbiting stars outside our Solar System and the project scientist on NASA’s Kepler mission, which has outlived its expected lifespan of 3.5 years nearly threefold and has discovered an astonishing 1,000 exoplanets.
In a beautiful essay marking the third anniversary of the mission, Batalha reflected on the life of pioneering astronomer Johannes Kepler, after whom it was named, and on the larger questions animating scientists in the search for other worlds. She wrote:
Reality is a poem on the tip of my tongue that I can’t quite remember, familiar yet distant. It’s a form seen through a veil.
When she kindly agreed to participate in the second annual Universe in Verse, I asked her to read a portion of a very old, very long poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay (February 22, 1892–October 19, 1950), which deals with this question of what we look at and what we see through the veils of our perception — an excerpt from the title poem in Millay’s 1917 collection Renascence and Other Poems (free ebook | public library).
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