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Love and Death: Readings for Weddings and Funerals about Science

Although technically the UK is a Christian country, many people do not subscribe to a religion or if they do, they aren't particularly spiritual. For those that prefer to keep their wonder within in the realms of the physical world (vast as it is!), these readings based on science or even written by scientists, might be more fitting! I had a lot of fun choosing music for this month's radio show as well since there are so many different styles that focus on science. We start off quite classical and then move into some contemporary electronic ambient.

Quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson

We are all connected;

To each other, biologically.

To the earth, chemically.

To the rest of the universe atomically.


Sonnet—To Science BY Edgar Allen Poe

Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!

   Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.

Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,

   Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?

How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,

   Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering

To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,

   Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?

Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car,

   And driven the Hamadryad from the wood

To seek a shelter in some happier star?

   Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,

The Elfin from the green grass, and from me

The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?


Summer and Austin have left their apartment for a house By Romie Stott

I meant to write a poem for your wedding

about super fluids. About quantized groupings

whose singular momentum pushes up and over containers –

about transmission of heat, creation of vortices,

the creation of h/m proportions of vortices

where h is plank’s constant –

a spun bucket that holds a dozen whirlpools.

I meant to write that you were aligned together

in the same quantum state,

and could not be contained. I meant to write

a poem of matter, of transition points –

of energy that transforms liquid to gas –

of boiling water at a steady temperature

as molecules leap into vapor.

They don’t use the term latent heat anymore.

I can’t use it to say you’ve changed states.

It was a long time building, only seeming

the same, like boiling water, as you transformed

into something that rises.


The atom’s range by Reitza Dine Wirtshafer

Ice shivered me to shape

Heat into vapour.

I, one in the smoke’s twist,

In the icicle’s taper,


Diffused in the great hollow

Of love’s firmament,

Or narrowed to the fierce

Defying element - 


I, that have great wonder

At the atom’s range,

Bow before the season’s

Ultimate of change.


The Dying Physicist Tells Her Why Goodbye Is Meaningless by Laurel Winter

I will see you later

and earlier and

over and over and

tomorrow and today and, yes,

I will see you yesterday.


Time and space,

they've proved to my satisfaction,

are nothing more than

mathematical abstraction so


I will see you then

and now

and somehow,

sweetheart,

much to your surprise,

I will see you

before and after

the first and last time

I ever see you,

so kiss me hello again

and don't cry.


Watching My Friend Pretend Her Heart Isn't Breaking by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

On Earth, just a teaspoon of neutron star

would weigh six billion tons. Six billion tons

equals the collective weight of every animal

on earth. Including the insects. Times three.


Six billion tons sounds impossible

until I consider how it is to swallow grief—

just a teaspoon and one might as well have consumed

a neutron star. How dense it is,

how it carries inside it the memory of collapse.

How difficult it is to move then.

How impossible to believe that anything

could lift that weight.


There are many reasons to treat each other

with great tenderness. One is

the sheer miracle that we are here together

on a planet surrounded by dying stars.

One is that we cannot see what

anyone else has swallowed.


“Vows” from Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness by Tony Kushner

Conjunction, assemblage, congress, union:

Life isn’t meant to be lived alone.

A life apart is a desperate fiction.

Life is an intermediate business:

a field of light bordered by love

a sea of desire stretched between shores.

Marriage is the strength of union.

Marriage is the harmonic blend.

Marriage is the elegant dialectic of counterpoint.

Marriage is the faultless, fragile logic of ecology:

A reasonable process of give and take

unfolding through cyclical and linear time.

A wedding is the conjoining of systems in which

Neither loses its single splendour and both are completely

transformed. As, for example,

The dawn is the wedding of the Night and the Day,

and is neither, and both,

and is, in itself, the most beautiful time,

abundant artless beauty,

free and careless magnificence.


Part Three: Love XIX by Emily Dickinson:

Of all the souls that stand create

I have elected one.

When sense from spirit files away,

And subterfuge is done;


When that which is and that which was

Apart, intrinsic, stand,

And this brief tragedy of flesh

Is shifted like a sand;


When figures show their royal front

And mists are carved away,—

Behold the atom I preferred

To all the lists of clay!


Scientific Romance by Tim Pratt

If starship travel from our

Earth to some far

star and back again

at velocities approaching the speed

of light made you younger than me

due to the relativistic effects

of time dilation,

I’d show up on your doorstep hoping

you’d developed a thing for older men,

and I’d ask you to show me everything you

learned to pass the timeout there in the endless void

of night.


If we were the sole survivors

of a zombie apocalypse

and you were bitten and transformed

into a walking corpseI wouldn’t even pick up my

assault shotgun,

I’d just let you take a bite

out of me, because I’d rather be

undead forever

with you

than alive alone

without you.


If I had a time machine, I’d go back

to the days of your youth

to see how you became the someone

I love so much today, and then

I’d return to the moment we first met

just so I could see my own face

when I saw your face

for the first time,

and okay,

I’d probably travel to the time

when we were a young couple

and try to get a three-waygoing. I never understood

why more time travelers don’t do

that sort of thing.


If the alien invaders come

and hover in stern judgment

over our cities, trying to decide

whether to invite us to the Galactic

Federation of Confederated

Galaxies or if instead

a little genocide is called for,

I think our love could be a powerful

argument for the continued preservation

of humanity in general, or at least,

of you and me

in particular.


If we were captives together

in an alien zoo, I’d try to make

the best of it, cultivate a streak

of xeno-exhibitionism,

waggle my eyebrows, and make jokes

about breeding in captivity.


If I became lost in

the multiverse, exploring

infinite parallel dimensions, my

only criterion for settling

down somewhere would be

whether or not I could find you:

and once I did, I’d stay there even

if it was a world ruled by giant spider-

priests, or one where killer

robots won the Civil War, or even

a world where sandwiches

were never invented, because

you’d make it the best

of all possible worlds anyway,

and plus

we could get rich

off inventing sandwiches.


If the Singularity comes

and we upload our minds into a vast

computer simulation of near-infinite

complexity and perfect resolution,

and become capable of experiencing any

fantasy, exploring worlds bound only

by our enhanced imaginations,

I’d still spend at least 10^21 processing

cycles a month just sitting

on a virtual couch with you,

watching virtual TV,

eating virtual fajitas,

holding virtual hands,

and wishing

for the real thing.


The highlighted part is the part I read in the show, but the other verses are quite charming too. Depending on how long you want your reading to be, you could choose the whole thing!


Antidotes to Fear of Death

Sometimes as an antidote

To fear of death,

I eat the stars.

Those nights, lying on my back,

I suck them from the quenching dark

Til they are all, all inside me,

Pepper hot and sharp.

Sometimes, instead, I stir myself

Into a universe still young,

Still warm as blood:

No outer space, just space,

The light of all the not yet stars

Drifting like a bright mist,

And all of us, and everything

Already there

But unconstrained by form.

And sometime it’s enough

To lie down here on earth

Beside our long ancestral bones:

To walk across the cobble fields

Of our discarded skulls,

Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,

Thinking: whatever left these husks

Flew off on bright wings.


The Sciences Sing a Lullabye by Albert Goldbarth

Physics says: go to sleep. Of course

you're tired. Every atom in you

has been dancing the shimmy in silver shoes

nonstop from mitosis to now.

Quit tapping your feet. They'll dance

inside themselves without you. Go to sleep.


Geology says: it will be all right. Slow inch

by inch America is giving itself

to the ocean. Go to sleep. Let darkness

lap at your sides. Give darkness an inch.

You aren't alone. All of the continents used to be

one body. You aren't alone. Go to sleep.


Astronomy says: the sun will rise tomorrow,

Zoology says: on rainbow-fish and lithe gazelle,

Psychology says: but first it has to be night, so

Biology says: the body-clocks are stopped all over town

and

History says: here are the blankets, layer on layer, down and down.


A Strange Galaxy by John Watt 

When I gaze into this realm, I see more than the dazzling array

     of golden starbursts floating in a cosmic sea of blue-green-gray,

   photoreceptors painting post-Impressionistic explosions of colors,

       fibers and dilator muscles servicing your ocular aperture.


I see distinctive melanin patterns of a truly original individual -

     a retinal scan of exceptional singularity,

   each nebula unique, every supernova peculiar,

      no quasar like any other.


I passionately absorb with one brief glance

     an infinity of nuance,

   an eternity of historical archives,

       a heaven and earth of emotional journeys.


I am reading your autobiography, the encyclopedia of you.

     I remain a student of your sclera,

   a pupil of your pupils,

       a Vincent of your irises,


going half-mad with the dizzying vastness

of the starry night within your eyes.


No Less BY Alice B. Fogel

It was twilight all day.


Sometimes the smallest things weigh us down,

small stones that we can't help

admiring and palming.


Look at the tiny way

this lighter vein got inside.

Look at the heavy gray dome of its sky.


This is no immutable world.

We know less than its atoms, rushing through.


Light, light. Light as air, to them,

for all we know. Trust me on this one,

there is happiness at stake.


Boulder, grain. Planet, dust:

What fills the stones fills us.


I remember, or I have a feeling,

I could be living somewhere with you,

weighted down the way we aren't now.


Often the greatest things,

those you'd think would be the heaviest,

are the very ones that float.


Science Mash Up – Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Albert Einstein, and others

Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is a tiny blue dot that we humans call home.

And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries.

We are constantly reminded that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is a prerequisite to survival.

Our little planet floats like a mote of dust in the morning sky.

All that you see, all that we can see, exploded out of a star billions of years ago, and the particles slowly arranged themselves into living things, including all of us.

We are made of star stuff.

We are the mechanism by which the universe can comprehend itself.

The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth.

We should remain grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.

The sum of all our evolution, our thinking and our accomplishments is love.

How on earth can you explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as love?

Put your hand on a stove for a minute and it seems like an hour.

Sit with the person you love for an hour and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.

A marriage makes two fractional lives a whole.

It gives to two questioning natures a renewed reason for living.

It brings a new gladness to the sunshine, a new fragrance to the flowers, a new beauty to the earth, and a new mystery to life.


A Universe Of Atoms, An Atom In The Universe by Richard Feynman

There are the rushing waves

mountains of molecules

each stupidly minding its own business

trillions apart

yet forming white surf in unison


Ages on ages

before any eyes could see

year after year

thunderously pounding the shore as now.

For whom, for what?

On a dead planet

with no life to entertain.


Never at rest

tortured by energy

wasted prodigiously by the Sun

poured into space.

A mite makes the sea roar.


Deep in the sea

all molecules repeat

the patterns of one another

till complex new ones are formed.

They make others like themselves

and a new dance starts.

Growing in size and complexity

living things

masses of atoms

DNA, protein

dancing a pattern ever more intricate.


Out of the cradle

onto dry land

here it is

standing:

atoms with consciousness;

matter with curiosity.


Stands at the sea,

wonders at wondering: I

a universe of atoms

an atom in the Universe.


Sonnet: Against Entropy by John M. Ford

The worm drives helically through the wood

And does not know the dust left in the bore

Once made the table integral and good;

And suddenly the crystal hits the floor.

Electrons find their paths in subtle ways,

A massless eddy in a trail of smoke;

The names of lovers, light of other days

Perhaps you will not miss them. That's the joke.

The universe winds down. That's how it's made.

But memory is everything to lose;

Although some of the colors have to fade,

Do not believe you'll get the chance to choose.

Regret, by definition, comes too late;

Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.


Elegy by Juniper Talbot

You,

whose body was born of stardust

13 billion years ago in the deep

darkness of space –

At that time hydrogen and helium were all –

You and I,

a distant dream

Nevertheless the universe

dreamed

the birth of stars

Carbon, oxygen and iron

cooked up in the furnace of stars

Until

Billions of years later they expanded, exploded

throwing their elements out in space,

like seeds on the cosmic wind –

seed clouds collapsing,

attraction and similarity

Second generation stars and planets –

And with that

Our lives began.

You made from stardust

And I –

A star had to be born –

Carbon, oxygen and iron

For us to exist,

And had to die for us to live.

Born of stars

We are

And to them we return.

Your star-bright radiance

Burned its bright candle

to the wick.

I see

You, the faint glimmer of radiance

Returning –

Carbon, oxygen, iron

To the star-bright center,

The luminous heart

where evolution

and the mystery and our destinies

Take us.


Often I Imagine the Earth By Dan Gerber

Often I imagine the earth

through the eyes of the atoms we’re made of—

atoms, peculiar

atoms everywhere—

no me, no you, no opinions,

no beginning, no middle, no end,

soaring together like those

ancient Chinese birds

hatched miraculously with only one wing,

helping each other fly home.


Listen back to the show on Mixcloud and look out for next month's show coming soon!

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