A Few Quotations Relevant to Astronomy

Night, the beloved. Night, when words fade and things come alive. When the destructive analysis of day is done, and all that is truly important becomes whole and sound again. When man reassembles his fragmentary self and grows with the calm of a tree.
  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944), French aviator, author. Flight to Arras, ch. 1 (1942).

I cannot walk through the suburbs in the solitude of the night without thinking that the night pleases us because it suppresses idle details, just as our memory does.
  Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), Argentinian author. Labyrinths, "A New Refutation of Time" (1964).

Astronomy is perhaps the science whose discoveries owe least to chance, in which human understanding appears in its whole magnitude, and through which man can best learn how small he is.
  G. C. Lichtenberg (1742-99), German physicist, philosopher. Aphorisms, "Notebook C," aph. 23 (written 1765-99; tr. by R. J. Hollingdale, 1990).

These earthly godfathers of Heaven's lights,
That give a name to every fixed star,
Have no more profit of their shining nights
Than those that walk and wot not what they are.
  William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist, poet. Biron, in Love's Labour's Lost, act 1, sc. 1.

Astrology: This is the excellent foppery of the world: that when we are sick in fortune-often the surfeits of our own behaviour-we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stars, as if we were villains on necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical predominance, drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence. . . . An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition on the charge of a star!
  William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist, poet. Edmond, in King Lear, act 1, sc. 2.

Space isn't remote at all. It's only an hour's drive away if your car could go straight upwards.
  Sir Fred Hoyle (b. 1915), British astronomer. Observer (London, 9 Sept. 1979).

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings
. . .
And while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
  John Gillespie Magee (c.1922-41), U.S.-born pilot with Royal Canadian Air Force. First and last lines of the sonnet High Flight (written 1941). Magee died while on a bombing mission over Germany. The verse was later quoted by President Ronald Reagan following the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986.

I don't pretend to understand the Universe -- it's a great deal bigger than I am.
  Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Scottish essayist and historian. Quoted by poet and diarist William Allingham in: A Diary, ch. 10 (ed. by H. Allingham and D. Radford, 1907), entry for 28 Dec. 1868.

Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.
  Sarah Williams; in "Best Loved Poems of the American People", Hazel Felleman, ed. Garden City Publishing Co., Garden City NY: 1936, pp. 613-614

"The stars are made of the same atoms as the earth." I usually pick one small topic like this to give a lecture on. Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars -- mere gobs of gas atoms. Nothing is "mere." I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination -- stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern -- of which I am a part -- perhaps my stuff was belched from some forgotten star, as one is belching there. Or see them with the greater eye of Palomar, rushing all apart from some common starting point when they were perhaps all together. What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the *why?* It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined! Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were like a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?
  Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988), American physicist and Nobel Prize winner

Thus, when the lamp that lighted
The traveller at first goes out,
He feels awhile benighted,
And looks around in fear and doubt.
But soon, the prospect clearing,
By cloudless starlight on he treads,
And thinks no lamp so cheering
As that light which Heaven sheds.
  Thomas Moore (1779-1852), English, "I'd mourn the Hopes"

When in your middle years
The great comet comes again
Remember me, a child,
Awake in the summer night,
Standing in my crib and
Watching that long-haired star
So many years ago.
Go out in the dark and see
Its plume over water
Dribbling on the liquid night,
And think that life and glory
Flickered on the rushing
Bloodstream for me once, and for
All who have gone before me,
Vessels of the billion-year-long
River that flows now in your veins.
  Kenneth Rexroth, "Halley's Comet"

With every passing hour our solar system comes forty-three thousand miles closer to globular cluster M13 in the constellation Hercules, and still there are some misfits who continue to insist that there is no such thing as progress.
  Ransom K. Ferm

When mine hour is come
Let no teardrop fall
And no darkness hover
Round me where I lie.
Let the vastness call
One who was its lover,
Let me breathe the sky.

Where the lordly light
Walks along the world,
And its silent tread
Leaves the grasses bright,
Leaves the flowers uncurled,
Let me to the dead
Breathe a gay goodnight.
  G.W. Russell, "When" (quoted on TAC in memory of our friend Alan Nelms)

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Bill Arnett and Mark Taylor; last updated: 1998 Nov 29