Poetry Poetry Friday

[Poetry Friday] There Are The Rushing Waves

A poem by theoretical physicist Richard Feynman

Kenneth here.

Thanks to Karen Edminsten for hosting this week.

Richard Feynman’s van painted with his eponymous diagrams, symbols he had invented to express complex particle interaction.
Photo taken by John Kannenberg is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Have you ever played the game where you pick three people living or dead for a dream dinner party?

The first person on my list would be the (sadly deceased) theoretical physicist Richard Feynman. I’ve been fascinated by him ever since reading his book “Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman!”, a semi-autobiographical memoir.

He wrote and read this poem as part of an speech given to the National Academy of Sciences (in 1955!).

There are the rushing waves
mountains of molecules
each stupidly minding its own business
trillions apart
yet forming white surf in unison

Ages on ages
before any eyes could see
year after year
thunderously pounding the shore as now.
For whom, for what?
On a dead planet
with no life to entertain.

Never at rest
tortured by energy
wasted prodigiously by the Sun
poured into space.
A mite makes the sea roar.

Deep in the sea
all molecules repeat
the patterns of one another
till complex new ones are formed.
They make others like themselves
and a new dance starts.
Growing in size and complexity
living things
masses of atoms
DNA, protein
dancing a pattern ever more intricate.

Out of the cradle
onto dry land
here it is
standing:
atoms with consciousness;
matter with curiosity.

Stands at the sea,
wonders at wondering: I
a universe of atoms
an atom in the Universe.

Bonus clip – this video of actor Oscar Isaac (swoon!) reading Richard Feynman’s letter to his first wife, written after she died from tuberculosis at age 25. The letter remained unopened and unread by anyone else until after Feynman’s own death in 1988.

Written by Richard P Feynman
Published by WW Norton & Co
ISBN-13: 9780393355628

Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman!
Adventures of a Curious Character
Amazon | Book Depository

 

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