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This review is taken from PN Review 143, Volume 28 Number 3, January - February 2002.

AWESOME RESPONSIBILITY REBECCA ELSON, A Responsibility to Awe (Oxford Poets/Carcanet) £6.95

As a young technical abstractor working on an aeronautical magazine, I came across the scientific dictum that a design must be 'beautiful' if it is to be functional. Scientists spoke also of the 'state of the art.' Years earlier I had made a connection between Dylan Thomas's lines 'The ball I threw while playing in the park/ has not yet reached the ground' with the example of the moving train that Albert Einstein used to explain his theory of relativity. If truth equates with beauty, as both the poet and the scientist seem to agree, it surely follows that science has something to offer poetry. It was with considerable anticipation, then, that I approached A Responsibility to Awe, the posthumous selection of writings by the Canadian poet and astronomer, Rebecca Elson, and in particular her poem, 'Explaining Relativity':

Forget the clatter of ballistics,
The monologue of falling stones,
The sharp vectors
And the stiff numbered grids.

It's so much more a thing of pliancy, persuasion,
Where space might cup itself around a planet
Like your palm around a stone,

Where you, yourself the planet,
Caught up in some geodesic dream,
Might wake to feel it enfold your weight
And know there is, in fact, no falling.

Although the sciences (geology, to some extent, as well as astronomy) do remain, so to speak, fixed stars in her galaxy of references, only about ...


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