19 March 2016

Sagan Saturday: Pale Blue Dot Poetry

I was introduced to the work of Carl Sagan about 4 years ago, and since then I have had a posthumous crush on this incredible astrophysicist. Prior to reading his work, I never imagined that I, an English major and lover of beautiful prose, could ever digest and understand (let alone be moved by) a scientist's writing. The first time I picked up a Sagan book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, my life was forever changed. His words and ideas investigated the very issues I myself have wrestled with for years. I began to understand science as a framework through which to deal with life - not in this cold, factual way- but instead through this eloquent, we-are-all-connected-to-each-other sort of way. By understanding the Laws of Thermodynamics that govern our Universe on a small and large scale, I have begun to accept that everything is unfolding as it should. Through Sagan, I have come to know and understand myself better by knowing and understanding the world, the Universe, and how I fit into it.

Carl Sagan's beautifully eloquent and awe-inspiring speech reflecting on his time in space, Pale Blue Dot, is one of my all-time favorite videos (right up there with NDT's Most Astounding Fact - which also inspired my own poetry from the transcript).

In this humbling video, we hear Sagan discuss his emotions experienced while turning back towards earth from deep space and seeing the planet appear like a small "mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam." Consider that image for a moment: our Universe is so vast, so large, so infinite that our seemingly large Earth, full of everything you have ever known or will know about anything - appeared as small as a piece of dust floating in a ray of light. This thought gives me chills and makes me feel so ... what's the word? ... humbled.

The quote I stole from his transcript is a different part of his speech. Here, he's talking about how scientists are not considered eloquent (ah! how I used to feel) because they know how the world works and that mystery of beauty is gone. The quote begins: "It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery - " The following poem is the rest of that quote, broken out into line breaks to make the speech become a poem. May you be inspired and moved in such a way that I myself have been.  
But is it not
to understand
how the world actually works —
that white light is made of colors,
that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light,
that transparent air reflects light,
that in so doing it discriminates among the waves,
that the sky is blue
for the same reason that the sunset is red?
It does no harm
to the romance of the sunset
to know a little bit about it.
Rat Beach, Torrance, CA - 13 March 2016


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