Redshift, a definition:
the displacement of spectral lines toward longer wavelengths (the red end of the spectrum) in radiation from distant galaxies and celestial objects. This is interpreted as a Doppler shift that is proportional to the velocity of recession and thus to distance.
I wonder. When the universe expands, and our beloved objects appear to fly away from us, do we see red?
In a 1977 interview with The Paris Review, Stanley Kunitz said, regarding scientists:
The popular impression is that their metaphors are real and the poet’s metaphors are unreal. But both are trying to find metaphors for reality. It always haunts me that human beings were accumulating experience and knowledge in their bodies before they had a language. That’s where our oldest wisdom is. The language of the imagination is a body language. That’s why poetry is resistant to abstractions.
Below is one of Kunitz’s experiments in the use of metaphor, which makes reference to the concept of redshift he had heard astronomers speak of.
The Science of the Night
I touch you in the night, whose gift was you,
My careless sprawler,
And I touch you cold, unstirring, star-bemused,
That have become the land of your self-strangeness.
What long seduction of the bone has led you
Down the imploring roads I cannot take
Into the arms of ghosts I never knew,
Leaving my manhood on a rumpled field
To guard you where you lie so deep
Caught in the calcium snows of sleep?
And even should I track you to your birth
Through all the cities of your mortal trial,
As in my jealous thought I try to do,
You would escape me—from the brink of earth
Take off to where the lawless auroras run,
You with your wild and metaphysic heart.
My touch is on you, who are light-years gone.
We are not souls but systems, and we move
In clouds of our unknowing like great nebulae.
Our very motives swirl and have their start
With father lion and with mother crab.
Dreamer, my own lost rib,
Whose planetary dust is blowing
Past archipelagoes of myth and light
What far Magellans are you mistress of
To whom you speed the pleasure of your art?
As through a glass that magnifies my loss
I see the lines of your spectrum shifting red,
The universe expanding, thinning out,
Our worlds flying, oh flying, fast apart.
From hooded powers and from abstract flight
I summon you, your person and your pride.
Fall to me now from outer space,
Still fastened desperately to my side;
Through gulfs of streaming air
Bring me the mornings of the milky ways
Down to my threshold in your drowsy eyes;
And by the virtue of your honeyed word
Restore the liquid language of the moon,
That in gold mines of secrecy you delve.
Awake! My whirling hands stay at the noon,
Each cell within my body holds a heart
And all my hearts in unison strike twelve.
During the past century or so, it has been an unusual event to discover a successful poem that contains both rhyme and meter. I realize that this one may not be to everyone’s taste. But I find a gentle and lyrical insistence in Kunitz’s desire to “Restore the liquid language of the moon.”
I read the poem several times, and seemed to hear it asking, directly and indirectly, the questions, “Who is the beloved?” and “Who am I?” Mysteriously, through some inner alchemy or space-time implosion, my brain arrived at this answer after re-reading: “all that is.”
Posted by Jillian Parker