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Thursday, April 3, 2014

THE HELIX NEBULA AND WALT WHITMAN

Walt Whitman, in his classic Leaves of Grass, wrote a poem entitled, When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were arranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became and tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wonder’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Whitman preferred natural, aesthetic beauty over the hard work required by science to reveal natural aesthetic beauty which would have been lost to our naked eyes except for the work of science. I expressed this view and more in the following poem.

A Wish for Walt  ---------- By Larry Schafer

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the measures and calculations argued forth the conclusions and theories.
When advancements yielded ways of exploring both the large and small worlds far from the naked eye,
When I sitting heard the lecturing with much applause,
I wondered if the applause was for the astronomer, for science, or for the wonders of God and his creation.
How soon I saddened in realizing that Walt and so many others have failed to see science as a portal revealing the nature and work of the Creator.
Till rising and gliding out I wondered off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Thanked God for science and silently sung “When I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made; I see the stars ….. “How Great Thou Art.”

The acrylic painting below is of the Helix Nebula (aka The Eye of God). The picture I used as a reference for the painting was created by NASA from images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The theory is that the nebula is energized gases and dust left over by a “burned out” star. The light emitted by the nebula took over 700 years to reach our telescope. Without science, the awesome beauty of the Helix Nebula would have never been revealed.


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