Now at year’s end, as we wrap things up, I have to ask you: Isn’t this an amazing newspaper for an upstate weekly – or by any other standard? Julie O’Connor puts this Almanac together every week: a true unsung hero. And though we have periodic food fights over her insistence that we use “that” in sentences like “He thought that the world was flat,” I’ll love her forever anyway.
And now that I’ve buttered her up, I offer a column that has little to do with the night sky. Instead, here are favorite quotes that I’d like to share with you. Their emphasis is the wistful or eternal, as befits the season. A few lead off chapters in my last two books.
“Among opticians and astronomers nothing now is talked of but what they call my great discoveries. Alas! This shows how far they are behind, when such trifles as I have seen and done are called “great.” Let me but get at it again! I will make such telescopes, and see such things…”
– William Herschel, 1782, one year after discovering Uranus
“Whence arises all that Order and Beauty which we see in the world? How came the bodies of animals to be contrived with so much art? Was the eye contrived without skill in optics?”
– Isaac Newton, near the end of his life
“If the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn’t.”’
– Lyall Watson
“Repetition is the only form of permanence that nature can achieve.”
(Sorry, can’t recall the author. But look, Julie: It contains a “that!”)
[Dear Skybob: It’s George Santayana]
“A sunbeam on a winter’s day
Is all the proud and mighty have
Between the cradle and the grave.”
– John Dyer, “Grongar Hill,” 1726
“There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
– Jonas Salk, 1954, on being asked who owned the patent on his polio vaccine, by Edward R. Murrow
“The untented Cosmos my abode, I pass, a willful stranger:
My mistress still the open road
And the bright eyes of danger.”
– Robert Louis Stevenson, “Youth and Love: I,” 1896
“Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she had laid an asteroid.”
– Mark Twain, Following the Equator, 1897
“You throw the sand against the wind, and the wind blows it back again.”
– William Blake, circa 1800-1803
“The whole damn thing, the universe, Must one day fall.”
– Howard Nemerov, “Cosmic Comics,” 1975
“Will the wind ever remember
The names it has blown in the past…”
– Jimi Hendrix, “The Wind Cries Mary,” 1967
“Why do you insist the universe is not a conscious intelligence, when it gives birth to conscious intelligences?”
– Cicero, circa 44 BCE
And here’s one I include simply because in all of literature, it’s probably the only place you’ll astoundingly find, “Are you coming or are you ain’t…”
“Are you coming or are you ain’t?
You slowpokes are my one complaint
Hurry up before I faint
– “Summertime,” 1962, sung by the Jamies
And finally, if asked if I’ve written anything original that I think may be quoteworthy, I’ll offer this:
“He wouldn’t recognize reality if someone hit him over the head with a Klein bottle.”
Come to think of it, that’s pretty esoteric, because one would have to know what a Klein bottle is. So (sigh), forget it. Happy holidays!
Want to know more? To read Bob’s previous “Night Sky” columns, visit our Almanac Weekly website at HudsonValleyAlmanacWeekly.com.