#MayaAngelou, #scienceandpoetry, #CarlSagan.

On February 14, 1990, the Voyager1 probe snapped a photograph of Earth from 6 billion kilometres away in the Solar System's outer reaches; the first time Earth was seen from the outer reaches of the Solar System. The voyager's mission was to photograph the outer planets, and before turning out cameras, it took a picture of the earth at Carl Sagan's insistence.  

The grainy photograph has now become the iconic image showing Earth in the mostly empty space that Sagan called the 'pale blue dot,' the title of his bestselling book published on September 8, 1997.

In the book, Sagan wrote, "everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives on this mote of dust suspended in this sunbeam."  

The poetic phrase, 'the mote of dust,' caught the imagination of people worldwide across disciplines of science and art.

In 1995, Maya Angelou composed a poem, 'A Brave and a Startling Truth', dedicated to the 'hope for peace, which lies, sometimes, hidden in the heart,' for the UN's 50th anniversary.  Her line,' We, this people on this mote of matter,' indicates that Sagan's phrase inspired her. 

I read about the poem in Brain Pickings, a Sunday Newsletter edited by Maria Popova, as presenting inspirational articles on art, science, creativity, etc.The second annual Universe in Verse, a charitable celebration of science through poetry, opened with the poem. 

She writes, "I chose this poem to set the tone for the show in part because it is absolutely stunning and acutely relevant to our cultural moment, and in part because the first time I read it, it sparked in me a sudden insight into the often invisible ways in which science and poetry influence and inspire one another -- into how the golden threads of thoughts and feeling stretch and cross-hatch across disciplines to weave what we call culture."

Below is the poem you can read. It's worth reading it for the reasons mentioned above and to remind us of the need for connecting with this mote of matter, our earth, in humble ways.  We learn the brave and startling truth when we come to it when we have the power to fashion this earth,  a climate where every man and every woman
can live freely without sanctimonious piety (my stress)
Without crippling fear.


We, this person, on a small and lonely planet
Travelling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth. 

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers 
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn and scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum  
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not performed 
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favour,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And  the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That is a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
This is when, and only when 
We come to it.
This post is dedicated to Blog Chatter's #TBRChallenge for March 2024.