Dearly Beloved, We're All Made of Star Stuff
May 21, 2012 8:49 AM   Subscribe

Wedding reading for the (very) non-religious space nerds. Suggestions?

My fiance and I are getting married in, errr, less than two weeks. We have a Justice of the Peace lined up who sent us a draft of her planned ceremony and we are... not impressed. Fiance pared it down to the non-sappy basics, which is great, but the ceremony is now four minutes long, which is - arguably, I know - not great. I'm in charge of finding a suitable reading to put some meat on them bones.

I've googled my face off, but I'm nothing if not frustrated. There seems to be the same dozen quotes floating around, none of which are really what we're looking for. We're nerds, with a passion for space and astronomy, so I figured that might be a good way to search for something meaningful to both of us. Fiance balks at any mention of spirituality, really, so that's an added limiting factor.

I found someone using a Carl Sagan quote frankensteined with some uncredited Mark Twain, and that might do in a pinch, but I turn to my favorite internet know-it-alls.

Does anyone know of any awesome astronomy related readings of the "we're all made of star stuff" kind that would work for a wedding? Or anything about love and the awesomeness of the universe? Please hope me.

(Fun fact; did you know that Google will occasionally include all results for Astrology when you search for Astronomy? Brilliant.)
posted by lydhre to Writing & Language (33 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
You wanna hear something really nutty? I heard of a couple guys who wanna build something called an "airplane," you know you get people to go in, and fly around like birds, it's ridiculous, right? And what about breaking the sound barrier, or rockets to the moon, or atomic energy, or a mission to Mars? Science fiction, right? Look, all I'm asking, is for you to just have the tiniest bit of vision. You know, to just sit back for one minute and look at the big picture. To take a chance on something that just might end up being the most profoundly impactful moment for humanity, for the history... of history. - from Contact
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:52 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dude, I would have killed to have a 4 minute wedding ceremony. As it was we had a Rabbi and a Reverend, and at 20 minutes, I still thought it was padded.

Are you haveing a butt-load of people attend? If not, go with speed and have an awesome party at that Plane-arium.

Just a thought.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:58 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

You may take issue with the reference to God in the Desiderata - but I don't as a very-non-religious person. I just love the part toward the end (which I have bolded).
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.
posted by jph at 8:58 AM on May 21, 2012 [8 favorites]

My wife and I both astronomers. At our wedding, fwiw, we adapted something from Charles Darwin's journals (a "marry vs. not marry" pros/cons list) as one of the readings.

I also really liked this poem by Bob Hicok: Other lives and dimensions and finally a love poem. We didn't end up fitting it into the ceremony though. We did use "Atlas," by U.A. Fanthorpe.

None of these are really strictly astronomy-related, but they all have a sort of secular, science-y bent to them.
posted by chalkbored at 9:07 AM on May 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

Ugh. HULK SMASH!!! My wife and I are both astronomers, I meant.

Just so this reply is slightly less content-free: for the Darwin thing, we had one of our friends read arguments from the "pro" side, and her husband read "cons" (or vice versa, I don't remember). It was kind of fun.
posted by chalkbored at 9:10 AM on May 21, 2012

Depending on what you're going for, there is always the pale blue dot,

"But for us, it's different. Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

—Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, pp. 8–9

posted by Blasdelb at 9:12 AM on May 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

Here's an idea from the Hitchhiker's Guide.

Bonus points if the officiant uses this version of the book.
posted by tomierna at 9:14 AM on May 21, 2012

I will warn you that the search for a reading of your own choosing can go wrong in so, so many ways. My advice, in general, is to stay away from excessively sappy fiction or poems that bash you over the head with their "message."

On that note, this works:

"For as long as there been humans we have searched for our place in the cosmos. Where are we? Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a hum-drum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people. This perspective is a courageous continuation of our penchant for constructing and testing mental models of the skies; the Sun as a red-hot stone, the stars as a celestial flame, the Galaxy as the backbone of night.

"Since Aristarchus, every step in our quest has moved us farther from center stage in the cosmic drama. There has not been much time to assimilate these new findings. the discoveries of Shapley and Hubble were made within the lifetimes of many people still alive today. There are those who secretly deplore these great discoveries, who consider every step a demotion, who in their heart of hearts still pine for a universe whose center, focus and fulcrum is the Earth. But if we are to deal with the Cosmos we must first understand it, even if our hopes for some unearned preferential status are, in the process, contravened. Understanding where we live is an essential precondition for improving the neighborhood. Knowing what other neighborhoods are like also helps. If we long for our planet to be important, there is something we can do about it. We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers."

- Carl Sagan, Cosmos
posted by deanc at 9:20 AM on May 21, 2012

Seconding Sagan's Pale Blue Dot.
posted by etc. at 9:31 AM on May 21, 2012

jph: "You may take issue with the reference to God in the Desiderata"

If you're a couple with a good sense of humor, you might instead consider Deteriorata, which I believe to be the most sublime collection of words ever assembled in the english language.
Go placidly amid the noise and waste.
And remember what comfort there may be
In owning a piece thereof.

Avoid quiet and passive persons
Unless you are in need of sleep.

Rotate your tires.

Speak glowingly of those greater than yourself
And heed well their advice,
Even though they be turkeys.

Know what to kiss...and when!

Consider that two wrongs never make a right
But that

Wherever possible, put people on hold.

Be comforted that in the face of all aridity and disillusionment
And despite the changing fortunes of time,
There is always a big future in computer maintenance.

Remember the Pueblo.

Strive at all times to bend, fold, spindle and mutilate.

Know yourself.
If you need help, call the FBI.

Exercise caution in your daily affairs,
Especially with those persons closest to you.
That lemon on your left, for instance.

Be assured that a walk through the ocean of most souls
Would scarcely get your feet wet.

Fall not in love therefore;
It will stick to your face.

Gracefully surrender the things of youth:
The birds, clean air, tuna, Taiwan
And let not the sands of time
Get in your lunch.

Hire people with hooks.

For a good time call 606-4311;
Ask for "Ken."

Take heart amid the deepening gloom
That your dog is finally getting enough cheese.

And reflect that whatever misfortune may be your lot
It could only be worse in Milwaukee.

You are a fluke of the universe.
You have no right to be here.
And whether you can hear it or not
The universe is laughing behind your back.

Therefore, make peace with your god
Whatever you conceive him to be---
Hairy thunderer, or cosmic muffin.

With all its hopes, dreams, promises and urban renewal
The world continues to deteriorate.

--Tony Hendra, "Detiorata"
emphasis mine
posted by namewithoutwords at 9:34 AM on May 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've always loved this Salman Rushdie quote from the The Moor's Last Sigh. I'm not sure it would work for your purposes exactly but here it is anyway:

Star light, star bright...we look up and we hope the stars look down, we pray that there may be stars for us to follow, stars moving across the heavens and leading up to our destiny, but it's only our vanity. We look at the galaxy and fall in love, but the universe cares less about us than we do about it, and the stars stay in their courses however much we may wish upon them to do otherwise. It's true that if you watch the sky-wheel turn for a while you'll see a meteor fall, flame and die. That's not a star worth following; it's just an unlucky rock. Our fates are here on earth. There are no guiding stars.
posted by peacheater at 9:37 AM on May 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

From Richard Feynman: "I guess maybe it is like rolling off of a log -- my heart is filled again and I'm choked with emotions -- and love is so good and powerful -- it's worth preserving -- I know nothing can separate us -- we've stood the tests of time and our love is as glorious now as the day it was born -- dearest riches have never made people great but love does it every day -- we're not little people -- we're giants... I know we both have a future ahead of us -- with a world of happiness -- now & forever."
posted by KathrynT at 9:41 AM on May 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

My wedding ceremony was resolutely secular, but it did not have the kind of reading you want, except perhaps the poem by Wallace Stevens, "Re-statement of Romance" ("The night knows nothing of the chants of night...."). Still, I think it went off pretty well. If you want a copy of the texts, memail me and I'll point you to a PDF. (For the curious: readings from Confucius, Wallace Stevens, John Ciardi, Rainer Maria Rilke, and a text that has circulated under the title "Benediction of the Apaches," though I haven't actually tracked down its provenance.)
posted by brianogilvie at 9:42 AM on May 21, 2012

Passion, by Kathleen Raine (I believe I first encountered this poem in a Richard Dawkins book...):

Then the sky spoke to me in language clear,
familiar as the heart, than love more near.
The sky said to my soul, "You have what you desire!
"Know now that you are born along with these
clouds, winds, and stars, and ever-moving seas
and forest dwellers. This your nature is.
"Lift up your heart again without fear,
sleep in the tomb, or breathe the living air,
this world you with the flower and with the tiger share."
posted by mskyle at 9:43 AM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

At one of my cousin's weddings, one of his aunts read a passage from Dr. Seuss's Oh, The Places You'll Go! It was so perfect it got applause.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:53 AM on May 21, 2012

From Babylon 5, the Declaration of Principles. (I've seen it used in nerd weddings, even!)
The universe speaks in many languages, but only one voice. The language is not Narn, or Human, or Centauri, or Gaim or Minbari It speaks in the language of hope It speaks in the language of trust It speaks in the language of strength and the language of compassion It is the language of the heart and the language of the soul. But always it is the same voice It is the voice of our ancestors, speaking through us, And the voice of our inheritors, waiting to be born It is the small, still voice that says We are one No matter the blood No matter the skin No matter the world No matter the star: We are one No matter the pain No matter the darkness No matter the loss No matter the fear We are one Here, gathered together in common cause, we agree to recognize the singular truth and this singular rule: That we must be kind to one another Because each voice enriches us and ennobles us and each voice lost diminishes us. We are the voice of the Universe, the soul of creation, the fire that will light the way to a better future. We are one. We are one.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:57 AM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

My favorite:
"Other civilizations, perhaps more successful ones, may exist an infinite number of times on the preceding and following pages of the Book of the Universe. Yet we should not minimize our sacred endeavors in this world, where, like faint glimmers in the dark, we have emerged for a moment from the nothingness of unconsciousness into material existence. We must make good the demands of reason and create a life worthy of ourselves and of the goals we only dimly perceive."
From the Nobel Lecture of Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989)
posted by j.edwards at 10:02 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please please read this poem: Summer and Austin Have Left Their Apartment for a House.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:04 AM on May 21, 2012

To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take... If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession, but participation... It takes a lifetime to learn another person... When love is not possession, but participation, then it is part of that co-creation which is our human calling, and which implies such risk that it is often rejected.

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And along the way, lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.

Finally, I have always admired the gold standard in nerd wedding vows, John M. Ford's Declaration of Unity.

If any should ask why we are here, together, now, let it be said that we were brought here by a force stronger than suns, which is Will.
Ours was not a random course, though chance strengthened it.
We were not always sure of the way, and some of our steps have been slow, but our next step spans worlds.
Time will not stop for the strongest: and though we must go where it takes us, without companions chosen by the will and the heart, the journey is empty, and there is nothing to measure the victories by.

posted by zamboni at 10:06 AM on May 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

The Master Speed
by Robert Frost

No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness, not for haste,
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will,
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still –
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar.
posted by carmicha at 10:14 AM on May 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh, or another Robert Frost poem - Choose Something Like a Star?
O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud --
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.

Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says "I burn."
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.

It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats' Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.
There's also a rather lovely choral setting by Randall Thompson, if you're looking for some incidental music. (Recorded, presumably, unless you have 4+ choral singers and a pianist who are looking to get involved in the ceremony.)
posted by mskyle at 10:34 AM on May 21, 2012

Oh also I should add: the Kathleen Raine poem I posted above - that's only half the poem. But the first half is about heartbreak and, one hopes, inappropriate for your wedding.
posted by mskyle at 10:43 AM on May 21, 2012

Oh, and there's also this poem, which we had read at our wedding:

Cave Dwellers

I’ve carved a cave in the mountainside.
I’ve drilled for water, stocked provisions
to last a lifetime. The walls are smooth.
We can live here, love, safe from elements.
We’ll invent another love that can’t destroy.
We’ll make exquisite reproductions of our
selves, immortal on these walls.

And when
this sea that can’t support us is burned clean,
when the first new creatures crawl from it,
gasping for water, air, more wondrous and more
wild than earth’s first couple, they shall see
there were two before them: you and me.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:45 AM on May 21, 2012

My fiancee and I are using this poem Tim Pratt wrote for his wife. It's not really "we are all made of stars" but it is nerdy and funny and sweet, I think. (We're cutting out a few sections for time but it sounds like you don't have that issue.)

"Scientific Romance

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 time
out 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 corpse
I 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-way
going. 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 1021 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. "
posted by ohsnapdragon at 10:47 AM on May 21, 2012 [24 favorites]

Oh please oh please include this song about love and time travel by Queen!
posted by Wavelet at 11:11 AM on May 21, 2012

Though my soul may set in darkness,
it will rise in perfect light.
I have loved the stars too fondly
to be fearful of the night.
Sarah Williams
posted by rjs at 11:52 AM on May 21, 2012

Our vows built on a Carl Sagan quote already cited above, along with one from Galileo:

Carl Sagan wrote, "Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people." Yet on this little dust mote floating in the eternity of space and time, there exists the curious phenomenon of human awareness that makes it all so terribly personal. Or, as Galileo put it into perspective: "The Sun, with all the planets revolving around it, and depending on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as though it had nothing else in the Universe to do."
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:22 PM on May 21, 2012

While I don't know of a literary passage on the theme you seek, I would strongly recommend playing XTC's song We're All Light .
posted by Perodicticus potto at 1:51 PM on May 21, 2012

Well, you said in the first part that you're a space nerd. So I'm going to assume that you like Star Wars, and suggest that when you get to the part about kissing the bride, you take her hands, look into her eyes, and say "I love you." Then, just before you lean in for the kiss, she can say, "I know." Or the other way around, which is more classic, but I think somehow less romantic.
posted by Night_owl at 3:25 PM on May 21, 2012

The story of Anne Druyan and Carl Sagan is pretty awesome.

"I had asked Carl whether or not it would be possible to compress the impulses in ones brain and nervous system into sound, and then put that sound on the [Voyager] record, and then think that perhaps the extraterrestrials of the future would be able to reconstitute that data into thought.

And he looked at me in - a beautiful May day in New York City, and said well, you know, why dont you go do it and - because who knows, you know, who knows whats possible in a thousand-million years? And so my brain waves and REM, every little sound that my body was making, was recorded at Bellevue Hospital in New York.

This was two days after Carl and I declared our love for each other, and so part of what I was feeling in me - recording of my brain waves.

Part of what I was thinking in this meditation was about the wonder of love, and of being in love. And to know its on those two spacecraft. Even now, whenever Im down, you know, Im thinking - and still they move, 35,000 miles an hour, leaving our solar system for the great, wide-open sea of interstellar space."
posted by elizeh at 8:06 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Carl Sagan: "For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love."
posted by catalytics at 8:42 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself:

"For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their
parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death."

You could pick through the poem yourself for a quote you like. It's an exuberant ode to the fact that we're all made of the same stuff. There are a lot of options in passages like this:

My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing
of blood and air through my lungs,
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and
dark-color'd sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn,

The sound of the belch'd words of my voice loos'd to the eddies of
the wind,
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms,
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag,
The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields
and hill-sides,
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising
from bed and meeting the sun.

Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much? have you reckon'd the
earth much?
Have you practis'd so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of
all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions
of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look
through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the
beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.

There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.

Out of the dimness opposite equals advance, always substance and
increase, always sex,
Always a knit of identity, always distinction, always a breed of
To elaborate is no avail, learn'd and unlearn'd feel that it is so.

Sure as the most certain sure, plumb in the uprights, well
entretied, braced in the beams,
Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical,
I and this mystery here we stand.

Clear and sweet is my soul, and clear and sweet is all that is not
my soul.

posted by salvia at 9:16 PM on May 21, 2012

Edited excerpt from my absolute favourite Carl Sagan Cosmos episode here

The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.

There was a time when the stars seemed an impenetrable mystery. Today, we have begun to understand them. In our personal lives also, we journey from ignorance to knowledge. Our individual growth reflects the advancement of the species. The exploration of the cosmos is a voyage of self discovery.

Sometimes I think how lucky we are to live in this time, the first moment in human history when we are in fact visiting other worlds and engaging in a deep reconnaissance of the cosmos. But if we had been born in a much earlier age, no matter how great our dedication, we could not have understood what the planets and stars are. We would not have known that there were other suns and other worlds. This is one of the great secrets, wrested from nature through a million years of patient observation and courageous thinking.

Human beings have always asked questions about the stars. It's as natural as breathing. But imagine a time before science had found out the answers. Imagine what it was like, say, hundreds of thousands of years ago soon after the discovery of fire. We were just as smart and just as curious then as we are now. Sometimes it seems to me that there were people then who thought like this: "We are wandering hunter folk. Fire keeps us warm. Its light makes holes in the darkness. It keeps hungry animals away. In the darkness we can see each other and talk. We take care of the flame. The flame takes care of us. The stars are not near to us. When we climb a hill or a tree, they are no closer. They flicker with a strange, cold, white, far-away light -- many of them, all over the sky, but only at night. I wonder what they are."

One night I thought: "The stars are flames. They give a little light at night as fire does. Maybe the stars are campfires which other wanderers light at night. The stars give a much smaller light than campfires, so they must be very far away. I wonder if our campfires look like stars to the people in the sky. But why don't those campfires and the wanderers who made them fall down at our feet? Why don't strange tribes drop from the sky? Those beings in the sky must have great powers."

Our ancestors groped in darkness to make sense of their surroundings. Powerless before nature, they invented rituals and myths, some desperate and cruel, others imaginative and benign. As long as there have been humans, we have searched for our place in the cosmos. Where are we? Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people. We make our world significant by the courage of our questions, and by the depth of our answers.

We embarked on our journey to the stars with a question first framed in the childhood of our species, and in each generation, asked anew with undiminished wonder: "What are the stars?" Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars.

(Setting sail for the stars as a non-sappy metaphor for marriage?)
posted by guy72277 at 12:40 AM on May 22, 2012

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