Academic journal article West Virginia University Philological Papers

Milosz and Einstein; Milton and Galileo: The Cosmologic Poet and the Physicist

Academic journal article West Virginia University Philological Papers

Milosz and Einstein; Milton and Galileo: The Cosmologic Poet and the Physicist

Article excerpt

Oskar Milosz, France's contribution to cosmologic poetry, conceived his universe in the 1920s in the "poems" Ars Magna and Les Arcanes. (1) His predecessor in the genre, Englishman John Milton. formulated his system two hundred and fifty years earlier in Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Despite differences in era and language, Milosz and Milton's cosmologies offer excellent counterpoints to each other. Poetic cosmologies are the meeting point of scientific and religious concepts, and Milton and Milosz's systems in their descriptions of the physical universe serve as bookends to the Newtonian phase of the scientific revolution.

Newton's anni mirabiles, as he called them, his miracle years, extended from 1664 to 1666, when Milton was also finishing the first of his biblical epics. In these years Newton invented the calculus, conceptualized gravity, and performed the prism experiment separating light into individual colors which became the basis for his theory of colors and his book of 1704, Optiks. Thus, the young brilliant Newton and the old blind Milton were contemporaries during particularly creative periods of their professional lives. Newton called his creative period "his miracle years" retrospectively for, a mistrustful man, he did not speak of them to his colleagues at Cambridge University where he was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. His fame begins with the publication of the Principia in 1687, thirteen years after Milton's death.

Milosz devised his cosmology just as Newtonism was ending and the Einsteinian synthesis was taking hold. Einstein's miracle year was 1905, when he published three articles in Max Planck's journal Annalen der Physik in which he replaced Newton's absolute space with a relative space--the special theory of relativity; argued for the existence of atoms; and overturned the wave theory of light by introducing the "photon," laying the foundation for quantum mechanics. However, the moment when Einstein's achievements would explode beyond the world of theoretical physics to that of culture in general had to await the ends of a Belle Epoque and a World War.

Eddington's Experiment

In the Spring of 1919, the English astronomer Arthur Eddington sent expeditions to South America and Africa to photograph the Hyades star cluster during a total eclipse. According to Einstein's recently published general law of Relativity, the sun's gravity would bend the light coming from the cluster.

The experiment was successful, the light curving in accordance with Einstein's equations, and Eddington, who had a nose for publicity, announced the proof of the theory of Relativity with great fanfare in November 1919. That month can be seen in retrospect as the starting point of the Einstein phenomenon. In 1921 Einstein won the Nobel Prize in Physics, and in that year made a world lecture tour that further cemented his renown.

In the decade that followed an army of vulgarizers published books and articles popularizing Einstein's ideas, while philosophers like Russell, Bergson, and Whitehead measured Relativity's impact on the intellect and the imagination.

What were the first effects of Relativity's discovery and popularization on the imagination? The poet William Carlos Williams in a 1921 issue of Contact published the poem "St. Francis Einstein of the Daffodils," a celebration of Relativity calling the new thinking "a spring-time of the mind." (2) And in 1926, Archibald Macleish wrote a poem simply entitled "Einstein," while in France a poet with a small but dedicated following, then as now, Oskar Milosz, read the Parisian popularizers of Relativity in books like La physique et la metaphysique des theories d'Einstein (1922) and decided that the poetic description of time, space and matter on which he had been working on since at least 1915, a full blown poetic cosmology, was in fact being validated in the startling truths revealed by Einstein's Relativity. …

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