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Today is Earth Day and I wanted to post something.  This blog is seriously lacking in terms of posts, and I suppose with three jobs and a baby, it’s easy (and understandable) to devise reasons to dedicate my time elsewhere.  But I could make the time as I am today, so no excuses here.

Some Background: “The Pale Blue Dot” is a photograph of Earth taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft.  It was none other than Carl Sagan, science popularizer himself, who requested that NASA turn Voyager’s camera around as it left our solar system after it’s primary mission had been completed.  The photograph of Earth was taken from 3.77 billion miles away – a distance hardly comprehensible to our human minds, yet explicit in its profoundness.  This unique perspective of our tiny world demands poetic reflection.  One such reflection was provided by Carl Sagan and provides a fitting Earth Day tribute.

So here it is.  One of my all-time favorite YouTube videos: Carl Sagan’s reflections on “The Pale Blue Dot,” set to the ambient musical stylings of Scottish post-rockers, Mogwai, and clips of recognizable hollywood-favorites and modern history.

The text if read silently on its own struggles to live up to the profoundness of the photograph.  But this is less a comment on Sagan’s talent with the pen, and more a recognition that perhaps in this case, a picture really is worth more than a thousand words.  Sagan’s voice and cadence makes up for some of this by providing a professorial yet fatherly tone – something between a soft, intimate conversation around a campfire and the on-edge dialog of The Matrix’s Agent Smith.

Mogwai provides the background canvass for Sagan’s vocal air-brush with their song: “Stop Coming To My House.”  It would be difficult to select a more fitting piece of music to go with Sagan’s reading.  The song seems to bring the epicness of the photo into almost conceivable expressions.  Whatever it was that Sagan lacked in word and voice, it is somehow made up by the textured echoes and slow arpeggiated riffs.  Through the song we begin to feel in a deeper sense the meaning for the photograph.  This complimentary nature between word and melody obviously isn’t new, but it is here that we have a prime example of why poetry is supposed to be heard out loud and how music (if it fits the poem!) can enhance the experience.

While the pastiche of movie clips often feels contrived and is at times distracting, for the most part I think it captures the poetry and meaning of the work as a whole.  In many of the clips, having seen the movie and recalling the emotions invoked from them assists in the overall experience.

In regards to the text, I absolutely love the raw, awe-inspired emotion.  However I think he gets it wrong when he says things like “On a scale of worlds, humans are inconsequential” and “Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.”  I don’t necessarily think he gets it wrong, it’s the logic behind it that I have a problem with.

I disagree with the notion that simply because we are so small and are in no way physically “central” to the Universe that we are “inconsequential” or “not important”.  Maybe we are those things, but it seems irrational to use size and centrality to make that argument.  There are plenty of things in this Universe that are incomprehensibly small, like electrons, but as it turns out, are quite important and meaningful indeed.

I think the photograph does make us ponder those things and perhaps it does challenge those notions, I just think it’s a mistake to equate size and position with importance and significance.  I have the same sort of problem with an argument on the other side: I have major problems with those who espouse the anthropocentric worldview simply because we are smarter and otherwise more capable of control than all other species on the planet.  Intelligence isn’t a justifiable argument for the view that we are the most important beings on this planet.  And size (all jokes regarding the male anatomy aside) isn’t a justifiable argument for significance.

Everything else I completely agree with.  I can think of no clearer way to put what the photograph means to me than by Sagan’s final lines: “There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.  It underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the only home we’ve ever known: the pale blue dot.”

Happy Earth Day, 2011

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Born: 08/15/2010
At: 3:16am
8lbs 3oz

So beautiful.

A Cradle Song

Sweet dreams form a shade,
O’er my lovely infants head.
Sweet dreams of pleasant streams,
By happy silent moony beams

Sweet sleep with soft down.
Weave thy brows an infant crown.
Sweet sleep Angel mild,
Hover o’er my happy child.

Sweet smiles in the night,
Hover over my delight.
Sweet smiles Mothers smiles,
All the livelong night beguiles.

Sweet moans, dovelike sighs,
Chase not slumber from thy eyes,
Sweet moans, sweeter smiles,
All the dovelike moans beguiles.

Sleep sleep happy child,
All creation slept and smil’d.
Sleep sleep, happy sleep.
While o’er thee thy mother weep

Sweet babe in thy face,
Holy image I can trace.
Sweet babe once like thee.
Thy maker lay and wept for me

Wept for me for thee for all,
When he was an infant small.
Thou his image ever see.
Heavenly face that smiles on thee,

Smiles on thee on me on all,
Who became an infant small,
Infant smiles are His own smiles,
Heaven and earth to peace beguiles.

– William Blake

Entry #7 – 8/15/2010

A poem by Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Entry #6 – 7/26/2010

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