Sunday, December 13, 2009

Herschel Uranus Keats

On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer by Keats

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific--and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise--
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

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"Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;"


The telescopic image first seen by Hershel would have been a watery one swimming across his field of view. He first thought it was a comet. The 'Eureka!' moment, if that's what it was, came weeks later when he discovered that it was a planet.

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What is fascinating is that later in his life Hershel talks about his discovery of Uranus in same terms as Keats, surely the finest example of poetry expressing a scientific discovery.

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I am indebted to tonight's BBC radio programme, 'Adventures in Poetry' by Peggy Renolds for relating the story.

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Picture: Voyager 2 1986

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