After Reading a Child’s Guide to Modern Physics

This, written by W.H. Auden, is probably one of the most famous poems written about physics. A quick google about showed me that Cosmic Variance already featured it, along with a bit of an explanation of some of the scientific references contained within it. What I’m not sure whether what that article says about Auden’s own father was a physicist is correct. I always thought he was a medical doctor…


If all a top physicist knows
About the Truth be true,
Then, for all the so-and-so’s,
Futility and grime,
Our common world contains,
We have a better time
Than the Greater Nebulae do,
Or the atoms in our brains.

Marriage is rarely bliss
But, surely it would be worse
As particles to pelt
At thousands of miles per sec
About a universe
Wherein a lover’s kiss
Would either not be felt
Or break the loved one’s neck.

Though the face at which I stare
While shaving it be cruel
For, year after year, it repels
An ageing suitor, it has,
Thank God, sufficient mass
To be altogether there,
Not an indeterminate gruel
Which is partly somewhere else.

Our eyes prefer to suppose
That a habitable place
Has a geocentric view,
That architects enclose
A quiet Euclidean space:
Exploded myths – but who
Could feel at home astraddle
An ever expanding saddle?

This passion of our kind
For the process of finding out
Is a fact one can hardly doubt,
But I would rejoice in it more
If I knew more clearly what
We wanted the knowledge for,
Felt certain still that the mind
Is free to know or not.

It has chosen once, it seems,
And whether our concern
For magnitude’s extremes
Really become a creature
Who comes in a median size,
Or politicizing Nature
Be altogether wise,
Is something we shall learn

You can hear a recording, made in 1965, of the poet himself reading this poem here.


One Response to “After Reading a Child’s Guide to Modern Physics”

  1. HI Telescoper – Really enjoy your blog even though most of it is above my head (like the stars). Have posted my poem into ‘poetry’ apropos of nothing other than what is in my head at the moment. If you feel the content is offensive then feel free to to delete as necessary.


    Looks at the riots in France and in Greece,
    Learn from their lessons – forget about peace?
    Well its better than doing nothing at all
    With luck the (w)bankers will have a great fall.
    Bring down the government, slaughter the nobs
    They don’t give a toss for those with no jobs.
    Get out of your chairs and take to the streets,
    Prepare to do battle with mounted police.
    Not what you want? Take the easy way out?
    Just watch while the sick and the poor take the clout?
    Deficit, schmecifit, means nothing at all,
    Its just fucking numbers writ on a wall.
    Need versus greed is the core of the fight,
    Stand up on the left or sit down on the right.
    Action is need for the first time in years
    and there wont be much backing from Labourite peers.
    So Aggravate, Needle, Annoy and Rebel. Crush and Hassle and most of all Yell.

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