From Rilke: Enough

I read Sonnets to Orpheus in the way one listens to ambient music. It is largely passive. I listen to sounds without trying to pick out tones, entreat images without trying to string them together or decode some meaning. I read it absentmindedly,  occasionally imagining the interior environment of the small Swiss hut Rilke wrote Sonnets in over the course of a few days in a dreary white February some time ago.

Until he grabbed me: In three lines, removed from context by pure distraction, the poet Rilke in his casual way, accidentally explained to me the nature of human endeavor in science.

Even the starry union is deceptive.

But let us now be glad a while

to believe the figure. That’s enough.

From Sonnets to Orpheus, Part 1, Sonnet 11.

Here is the outer limit of what we can see, the edge of our universe: the Cosmic Microwave Background. What it expresses are temperature variations among the photons that are streaming at our satellite eyes from the Beginning of Time, i.e. the Big Bang. It looks almost like noise, but really, this data speaks to how fast the universe is expanding, the universe’s age, and dark matter and dark energy. Planck is instrument that took the data that made this map, which was released last month. It is the third generation of data collecting satellites that has set out to make this map, each improving on the one before, giving us better accuracy, finer resolution, and more reason to believe our own guesses about the origin of everything in the so far observed universe. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful images in science.

As cosmology pieces together knowledge, maybe some solace can be wrung from “believing the figure,” for now. But don’t forget that observation “is deceptive”: If you can’t convince yourself and your peers to believe the figure, you can’t move forward, you’re stuck. And even if at some point it is comforting or interesting or thrilling to accept a perceived truth–the decontextualized Rilke warns us–we can’t and shouldn’t ignore the itching feeling that this new truth may only be a truth for “a while.” Our knowledge is in constant evolution.

Of course, dear Rilke, on longer timescales, it is never “enough.”

…………

Is my reading of Rilke as such, incorrect? Probably. Yes. Who cares? I’m not a literature student.

On a somewhat unrelated note, Re: Previous post, the daily saga will be reporting in the very near future from the University of California, Berkeley, once again. Let the fun times begin.

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2 Responses to “From Rilke: Enough”

  1. michael9murray Says:

    Of all Rilke’s works, which I greatly esteem, the S to O I have never been able to read – there is a camp-ness there I cannot get around.

    I keep seeing this CMB picture – but it needs explaining to those of us without the physics lingo etc. You have gone to some way to that – congrats!

    • tornspira Says:

      Ha! Maybe that is why I can only seem to read “Sonnets” without really paying attention to it 😛

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