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Yorkshire Times
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Steve Whitaker
Literary Editor
@stevewh16944270
8:20 AM 14th June 2023
arts

Poem Of The Week: Sun, Earth And Moon Scale Model By Glyn Edwards

 
Sun, Earth and Moon scale model
(Oxford Natural History Museum)


To stand together by the gallery
pillars looking down at Anning’s
ichthyosaur, at a triceratops skull.
To imagine the air as a dense strata
filled with fossils. To notice then
two pinheads in a display case
and an explanation of scale beyond

comprehension. To hear you count
all nine zeros and read aloud that
there is a third sphere across the hall
the equivalent size and distance
of the sun. To see how you first flinch
then stare at the gilded ball and to know
what you will ask next. To tell you

there’s one billion seconds in a decade
and to watch you translate our lives
into time, and to watch you transpose
time into distance, and to watch you lean
so close to the glass that your head
eclipses the painted earth, and its tiny,
textured moon, and to watch you.


The narrator of Glyn Edwards’ fine poem is present and entirely absorbed, as a teacher or guide directs the traffic of scientific discourse into the unbounded realm of the imagination, like a shaman. And he is also present in memory, for the teacher is a figure for the kind of guide who once transformed lives in ways that sustain in psychological perpetuity.

The repeated mantra of Edwards’ words – his call for the reader to look, to watch and to imagine – encourages a sense of immediacy, of heightened reception, and of belief in the scale of a universe vouchsafed, here, in inanimate microcosm.

The great gift of good teachers is a capacity to enthral, and it is clear that Edwards’ poem is an elegy for the loss of a power so monumental as to shake the tree of discovery for those in embryonic haste. Measuring his septets in gradual revelations, the poet builds a cosmos of steroidal scale, fires his charges in three-dimensional dramas of paleontology and astrophysics, and opens the roof of the Natural History Museum to the ‘gilded ball’ of the sun and the ‘nine zeros’ of a trajectory without limit.

The act of ‘transposing’ time into distance, of trying to make intelligible the immensity of the universe, is a transfiguring alchemy, yielding an acceptance, in the end, of our paucity of knowledge, and of the smallness of our ‘pinhead’ circling the sun.


‘Sun, Earth and Moon scale model (Oxford Natural History Museum)' is taken from In Orbit, published by Seren Books (2023) and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the publisher.

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