Posted by: John Looker | 19 August, 2016

The Day They Discovered Gravitational Waves

 

Time was there were Han philosophers
      standing on a hilltop at night
            naming the Mansions of Heaven;
       later, Galileo Galilei
            weeping with joy at the moons of Jupiter.

Now, in sightless tunnels
      beams from lasers have shivered
            at ancient astral events –
      and men and women around the world
           pore over computations                       

in awe at the mathematics:
       the Universe in its infancy
            had arched its back and roared
       and they can feel
            the exhalation of its breath.

 

© John Looker 2016

See: https://www.ligo.caltech.edu

”  The two LIGO gravitational wave detectors in Hanford Washington and Livingston Louisiana have caught a second robust signal from two black holes in their final orbits and then their coalescence into a single black hole. This event, dubbed GW151226, was seen on December 26th at 03:38:53 (in Universal Coordinated Time, also known as Greenwich Mean Time), near the end of LIGO’s first observing period (“O1”), and was immediately nicknamed ‘the Boxing Day event’.  “

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Responses

  1. What an astonishing poem! Sightless tunnels, shivered, arched its back–those are true inventions, poetry at its most basic and pure. Then there is the gracious modesty of the poem’s condensation of so much experience. The tension between the ages represented and the momentousness of the discoveries seems an expressive miracle. Bravo John!

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    • That’s extremely kind and very reassuring Tom. I wasn’t sure if I had come even near the target.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think you surpassed yourself here John. I, too, shivered!

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  3. A great poem. And I agree with what the others said 🙂

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    • Hello Ina – thank you. Best wishes to you.

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  4. this is an astounding poem – you did your own roar with this one. Thank you. Glenda

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    • That’s nice of you – I greatly appreciate that.

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  5. Shared on the Bennison Books FB page 🙂 Love this. Stunning final line.

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  6. This is a terrific poem! I watched the LIGO press conference online the day they announced the discovery. You have taken an event in deep space and made it into deep meaning.

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    • Thank you Brian. It was certainly a breathtaking announcement, wasn’t it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, especially considering the astonishing technology required. Mr. Einstein would be pleased.

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        • Yes – that confirmation beyond any capability then envisaged.

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  7. Did I hear the breath?… Oh! Good one John. I have mailed you. please check.

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  8. Reblogged this on chithankalai.

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  9. In 15 lines, John, you encompass the history of man looking at the heavens with amazement. We start with the Han Dynasty philosophers and their concepts about the mandate of the heavens, move to the early science of the Italian Galileo “weeping with joy at the moons of Jupiter”, and then move to the elegant mathematics that explore the far reaches of universe and time. The amazement you express here is amazing. But, as you are suggesting, cutting edge science has a long history built layer upon layer of first thought, then science, into the current legerdemain of science. It is not, after all, truly magic. As you say,

    in sightless tunnels
    beams from lasers have shivered
    at ancient astral events –

    and now we can sense how

    the Universe in its infancy
    had arched its back and roared
    and they can feel
    the exhalation of its breath.

    There is poetry here right enough. In the end the visions of mystics and philosophers gather light from the air and end up into a mathematics about the universe exhaling the beginning of time. Only a poet of your skill and craft could come up with this one John.

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    • Hello Tom – welcome as always, and thank you. I feel that ‘the history of man looking at the heavens’ is itself amazing, don’t you? And this latest discovery is about as astonishing as they come. It seemed to demand an attempt to express it through poetry.

      Liked by 1 person

      • If you think about it there is such a line that leads to the amazing science that leads to seeing the beginning of the universe — we assume the big bang at the moment. But as it unravels it also echoes back through thought, science, mathematics, and even poetry, all of the stuff which we have used to create ourselves as humans over time. This is good to contemplate, good to be led to contemplate by a poem.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. John, I love this! (One of my favorite topics.) That last verse is amazing. What a wonderful image!

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  11. John, I like this. I just read and article on gravity waves, your poem related elegantly to the discovery. Writing poems about science is difficult however you are a master of words and have poetically expressed the concept with technical talent. Thanks for sharing. Hope all is well with you.

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    • You are right that writing poems about science is difficult Donald – as I am not a scientist, I’m hoping that my homework was good enough. Full credit to the LIGO scientists however for a clear and helpful website, and I guess the article you have just read would have been similar. Best wishes.

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  12. Oh, John…this must have been an joy to write…to come to the end of it and realize the beauty you created. So grand!

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    • I can never tell how a poem will be received or judged Bonnie, so thank you.

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  13. I like the mobius strip effect: of the beginning of the poem in ancient history but then the end of the poem ‘arching’ back to a moment that precedes it.

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    • Thanks Bonnie – I’m pleased it struck you that way!

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  14. I was thinking of the difference between art and science the other day, and the difference between art and religion—and found myself confronting the notion of ‘an unholy regard for truth’ that science has—and that neither art nor religion has—though perhaps it is also non-political as well. I don’t think it fair to say that both art and religion are lying to us, but rather truth in art (perhaps I mean poetry here) and religion seems more culture bound than science does. The apparently legendary mutter of Galileo [G] that ‘still it moves’, which may not be literally true in (science’s—and history’s?—use of truth) but does underline the fact that G had no need to sacrifice his neck for his claim. No matter what the church thought, G had truth on his side. It wasn’t so much that the church was wrong and G was right (they were and he was) but they had different notions of truth. Did the Catholic church really think they could prevail by burning G at the stake? Maybe they did—but once again was it G was right and they were wrong, or does it suggest that the Church held a different notion of truth?
    Okay, John, let’s get to your truly (!!!) stunning poem. It marks some cultural pivots in Childhood’s end. I’m a little more familiar with G’s discoveries than those of the Han philosophers, but I get the point: mankind has been staring up at the night sky for a long time now, and we only begin to understand what us up—out—behind—directions for our looking see inadequate—and it seems the history of (the genealogy of? the archeology of?) the cosmos is out there for us to see and wonder at—even if our current eyes are sightless tunnels. Perhaps one of poetry’s truths is to point this out—to retain somne of our childhood wonder in the face of these gigantic inventions? I will quote Shunryu Suzuki. ‘In the beginners mind there are many possibilities, but in the experts mind there few.’ Let’s all sit with Han philosopher, have a cup of tea, and survey the possibilities.

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  15. I am enjoying my morning cup of tea as I write this, Jim. I’ll pour one for you. Looking up at the night sky is less of an experience in modern cities with all their light pollution so, strangely, it seems appropriate that the latest revelations about the cosmos (or confirmations of theory) turn out to be made without sight. I like your suggestion that one of poetry’s truths might well be to point up some of our childhood wonder. Poetry has lost some of its classical functions – we no no longer need it for the story for instance – but perhaps it has a job to do still. Several jobs I hope.
    You’ve got me thinking too about truth, art, religion and science. It’s too early in the morning though. I need another cup of tea.
    By the way, thanks so much for your comment.
    I’m going to reread your ‘Conversation with a Ghost’ now.

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  16. I enjoyed this poem, John. I was listening, just this morning, to a CBC podcast of a program called, Ideas, where a scientist was marveling at the mysteries of our universe, gravity, black holes and discussing the idea of multiple universes. I’m inspired now to write one of my own, perhaps the next time I listen to a podcast, I’ll see what I can do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good idea – I’d be very interested in your take on ii Anna.

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  17. This was a fascinating read, John. I liked the phrase “mansions of heaven”, and, figuring you hadn’t just picked it out of thin air, ended up on the Wikipedia page explaining the 28 mansions of Chinese astronomy… Like our own western constellations, many of the Chinese ‘mansions’ were named after animals… That’s universal, I guess, naming something mysterious and grand after big beasts. I liked the primeval shiver in your last line too!

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  18. I’m glad those Mansions of Heaven caught your interest Andy – I rather hoped that readers would figure that out. The whole subject matter seems to me to be one that awakens awe!

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  19. Sorry to have missed commenting on this one, John, during my recent absence from blogville. I am struck by the juxtapositions not only of ancient and modern times, but even more so by the way you have combined hardware of technic with software of human shivers and exhalations. You have done this admirably. I wonder whether poetry hasn’t actually become closer to science (even as story grows closer to religion) than is typically assumed.

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  20. I like the last two lines: “and they can feel / the exhalation of its breath.”

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    • Thanks so much Lola. They took a long time to come.

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  21. lovely john! i hope to visit the LIGO detector soon…a friend did recently and was strangely moved by it, as you were by understanding and capturing its impact so beautifully

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  22. You lucky man – what an opportunity! And thank you.

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