Friday, April 11, 2014

L'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle

Like many of us, I faithfully check APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day). When this image popped open the other day it took my breath away. I sat there gaping for five minutes.

Go to APOD. Drag the image to your desk-top. Open it and make it large enough to fill your screen. Or at least click on the image here.

You are looking into the heart of the Great Orion Nebula, a gassy star-forming region of the Milky Way Galaxy that appears to the unaided eye as a blurry star in the scabbard of Orion's sword.

As I gazed, I thought of what Beatrice says to Dante as they ascend to the seventh heaven:
She was not smiling. "If I smiled,"
she said, "you would become what Semele became
when she was turned to ashes,

for my beauty, which you have seen
flame up more brilliantly the higher we ascend
the stairs of this eternal palace,

is so resplendent that, were it not tempered
in its blazing, your mortal powers would be
like tree limbs rent and scorched by lightning.
What Dante sees reflected in Beatrice's face is the divine beauty itself, the love that moves the Sun and the other stars.

The poet, writing in the 13th century, must imagine the Beatific Vision. The Hubble Space Telescope brings us face to face.

I'm speaking metaphorically, of course. We can only speak metaphorically when confronted with the deepest mysteries of creation, here the powerful beauty of the forces and energies that build the very stuff of our existence, stars forging carbon, oxygen and iron. Some will look into the fiery furnace of Orion and see an image of themselves inflated to cosmic proportions, an all-powerful personal God. I see a flower, the flower in the crannied wall, perhaps, or the chambers of a human heart, the universal mystery that resides in every nebula and every grain of sand, before which I simply bow my head in silent acknowledgment.

(The translation above is that of Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander.)