Saturday, March 23, 2013

`A Great Ring of Pure and Endless Light'

The notion of “oldest light,” of light even having a meaningful age, reminds us of our diminutive place in creation. Our vision is touchingly limited. In galactic terms, we hardly see across the room. We’re deft enough to build and launch the Planck Surveyor satellite, but small enough to be awed by or indifferent to its findings: 

“It now seems the universe is 13.8 billion years old, instead of 13.7 billion, and consists by mass of 4.9 percent ordinary matter like atoms, 27 percent dark matter and 68 percent dark energy.” 

That the new data suggests our universe is marginally older than we previously supposed is interesting, but the reality of seeing light born a mere 370,000 years after the Big Bang defies understanding. It reminds me, on a radically different scale, of hearing the voice of a French singer recorded in 1860. It also reminds me that the poets were there first, in the seventeenth century. Think of these lines from Thomas Traherne’s “Innocence”: 

“What ere it is, it is a light
      So endless unto me
That I a world of true delight
      Did then and to this day do see. 

“That prospect was the gate of Heav’n, that day
The ancient light of Eden did convey
Into my soul: I was an Adam there
A little Adam in a sphere 

“Of joys!” 

Even more wondrously, recall Henry Vaughan’s vision in “The World”: 

"I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
       All calm, as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
       Driv’n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d.”

1 comment:

Marly Youmans said...

I like the musings on ancient light and how you bind it to Traherne and Vaughan--I dearly love their poems.