By Rebecca Elson

We astronomers are nomads,
Merchants, circus people,
All the earth our tent.
We are industrious.
We breed enthusiasms,
Honour our responsibility to awe.

But the universe has moved a long way off.
Sometimes, I confess,
Starlight seems too sharp,
And like the moon
I bend my face to the ground,
To the small patch where each foot falls,
Before it falls,
And I forget to ask questions,
And only count things.


Thanks to Joel Parker for suggesting this poem. I can see how this poem appeals to him, an astronomer, actor, bicycling commuter and amazing guy. It also appeals to me, as do the vast reaches of space.

From Rebecca Elson’s full obituary at The Independent:

Her last published poem before her death, “Antidotes to Fear of Death” (Orbis, Summer 1998), described giving herself to astronomy, as she had all her life, but ended with her old sense of awe at mortality on earth: “every skull a chrysalis” left behind by bright wings.

Rebecca Anne Wood Elson, astronomer and poet: born Montreal, Quebec 2 January 1960; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton 1986-89; Fellow, Bunting Institute, Radcliffe College, Harvard University 1989- 91; Research Associate, Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge University 1991- 99; married 1996 Angelo di Cintio; died Cambridge 19 May 1999.

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1 thought on “We Astronomers”

  1. I was astonished to see the author and poem because I thought only Joel knew about her. This is one of his favorite poems! Then I saw that you, indeed, found it through him. There is another excellent one I framed for him about the night sky by Antler. I think it is called Starstruck Utopias of 2000 (or some year). I originally found it in The Sun.

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