The Unlearn’d Astronomer

Lofty dreams from youthful aeons
Unroll parsecs of astral clouds,
Where silver linings tease the night
Beyond telescopic vision.
Gravity of unseen nature,
Choreography of mysteries,
Enrobe glorious goliaths
In ethereal majesty.
With faces stained in spectral blood
And veins filled with boiling plasma,
Brave seekers on the cosmic front
Laugh cheerily in helium
And hover proudly above all,
Until their oxymoronic fate
Grants them a supernova’s death.

Over the unreachable stars
The nebulous curtain is drawn;
Wherein the bleary eyes of mine
The pale light of morning has dawned.
Faintly, I hear the firmament
Humming, in timeless harmony,
A micro-wave of elegies:
Temporis filia veritas.

Is it the story of my life?


Colin Lee


Lillian invited us to a bit of stargazing today in dVerse’s Poetics: Lookin’ Up!. My confessional part aside, as a former science student, I find this a rare opportunity to poke a little fun at Uncle Walt, as I do believe there is a lot of poetry in science. Phenomena I alluded here includes accretion, interstellar clouds, supergiants, metric expansion (and redshifts of spectral lines), cosmic microwave background, just to name a few, whereas the poetic quote near the end (“Truth is the daughter of time.”) was borrowed from Kepler, a learn’d astronomer nevertheless.

Photo Courtesy: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)

16 thoughts on “The Unlearn’d Astronomer

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    1. Thank you, Alison. Me too. With a universe this vast, everyone is but a novice; so much so it’s quite easy to come up with a question about the universe that even a Nobel-winning astronomer cannot answer.

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  1. Oh but this reads beautifully, even though a) I am surely not a scientist; and b) nor am I an astronomer in the least. But I love so much about what you’ve writ here….most especially this:
    “Choreography of mysteries,
    Enrobe glorious goliaths
    In ethereal majesty.”

    No matter, scientist or not, I’m seeing the glory, majesty and mystery of this amazing photo — of those places out there…and the question you ask at the end? You end leaving us thinking….
    well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Lillian, for hosting and for this beautiful prompt, which stirs up a plethora of feelings close to my heart. Part of my reason to write the first stanza as it is is to come back to Whitman by demonstrating that it’s possible for non-scientists to appreciate the poetry in science as much as a non-literary like myself to appreciate the science in poetry. We can all appreciate the beauty of the cosmos with just as much passion, albeit through different lenses.

      Hidden in the poem is a bit of a confessional component, which I don’t let it show until the end. Its ambiguity might make interesting interpretation among readers, nevertheless. Anyhow, I’m very glad you enjoyed it.


    1. Kepler’s original quote in full was: “Temporis filia veritas; cui me obstetricari non pudet.” (“Truth is the daughter of time, and I feel no shame in being her midwife.”) I wrote this poem partly to respond to Whitman’s criticism of the Learn’d Astronomer. I borrowed this quote as if to argue with Uncle Walt that beauty is more than what greets the eyes but also in the truth and essence of beings; moreover, as Kepler put it, there’s no shame in delivering it. Both facets of truth, the apparent and the essential, require time to realise — for the experience of the former and the discovery of the latter. I truly think Uncle Walt has missed out something beautiful amidst his sour rejection of the rational element of truth.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree that both facets of truth, objective data about reality and reality itself, are important and distinct and require time to realize.

        Perhaps Whitman was worried (but I don’t know), given the success of obtaining objective data and using it, that the essence of reality could be ignored, replacing it with those objective facts. Science still needs philosophy and a mystical approach to reality. Having an objective description of reality is not enough to fully appreciate reality.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for shedding light on this matter, kind sir. That’s a sensible way to look at it. Perhaps, I should have spared Uncle Walt the benefit of the doubt instead of assuming that he rejected science entirely. Having said that, the Learn’d Astronomer, in my worries, has somewhat stood as a literary landmark which discouraged too many seekers of the aesthetic from appreciating the objective. Such alienation of the scientific from the romantics, perhaps unintended back in the days, is undeniably established in the perception of the modern minds, where they are now needlessly dichotomised. Regardless … I’m still a fan of Whitman’s!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you, Bjorn. Much of the scientific vocabulary has elaborate linguistic history and often paints such stunning imagery through colourful semiotics and musical phonetics. I believe theoretical physicists and mathematicians are, in some way, artists; only that their poetry is manifested through an infinite range of numbers and logic in theories and proofs, rather than a mere handful of alphabets and syllables. Likewise, there’s mathematical beauty in art, as much as da Vinci’s famous saying, “Let no man who is not a mathematician read the elements of my work.” I think, like our Renaissance fathers, we shouldn’t see science and art as separate entities after all. 😉


    1. Thanks! That’s a little wordplay with double meanings. For a star moving quickly away from us, its light (a wave) is warped in a similar manner as the sound (also a wave) of a race car zooming past us. (The phenomenon is called the Doppler Effect, and we apply it in ultrasound scan, meterologist radar, the police’s speed gun, etc.) In terms of the star’s spectrum (“spectral”) of frequencies, we call the warping a “redshift”.

      As for “plasma”, it either means the fluid in our blood or a physical state of ionised gas. 😉


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