Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Astronomer Poet

Science and the creative arts don’t always mix well. When I was an undergrad at UCLA, I recall the campus being divided into “North Campus” and South Campus.” The north was for those who studied the arts, literature, philosophy and the south was reserved for the engineers, the mathematicians and the physicists. The DMZ was around Powell Library, and crossing the line of demarcation made me queasy. It goes without saying, I was a denizen of the south and I always felt like I was traveling into a foreign land when I had to attend a class outside my major up in North Campus. There was this uneasy feeling walking through the shaded paths between the old brick buildings where people thought in terms of poetry instead of equations.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. As I mellowed with age, I learned to appreciate the finer, less objective areas of study. That is why I particularly enjoyed finding Robert Eklund’s website for his book of astro-poems and short essays – “First Star I See Tonight – An Exploration of Wonder.”

Bob proves to me that a science enthusiast (he is a docent at the Mt. Wilson Observatory) also can be sensitive and soul-reaching with his prose. Take the following poem for example that Bob graciously allowed me to reproduce for the SLB. “That poem, ‘First Star,’ is a very special one to me and I use it as the frontispiece in the book. I wrote it in Boulder, Colorado in 1960 for my mother just before she passed on. The ‘mountains’ referred to there are the front range of the Rockies, at the edge of Boulder,” says Eklund about his motivation for the piece.

      FIRST STAR

     The evening burns,
     The dark earth turns,

     The mountains loom against the sky;

     One star looks down
     To bless the town,
     While sunset clouds sail grandly by.

     And if the light
     Of noon's delight
     Moves on, and leaves us where we are,

     The darkest night
     But aids our sight—
     The better to reveal the star.

     — Robert L. Eklund

I believe that a coupling of science and the arts is a pleasing example of complementary disciplines and enjoying astronomy motivated poems like Bob’s can assuage attitudes sometimes associated with the hard sciences.

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