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Astrophysicist Janna Levin Reads Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Hymn to Time”

An ode to the eternal “let there be” between death and chance.

Astrophysicist Janna Levin Reads Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Hymn to Time”

“The moment is not properly an atom of time but an atom of eternity,” Kierkegaard wrote in contemplating the paradoxical nature of time half a century before Einstein forever changed our understanding of it. As relativity saturated the cultural atmosphere, Virginia Woolf was tussling and taffying with time’s confounding elasticity, the psychology of which scientists have since dissected. We are beings of time and in time — something Jorge Luis Borges spoke to beautifully in his classic 1946 meditation on time: “Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.”

That riverine dimension of being is what Ursula K. Le Guin (October 21, 1929–January 22, 2018) explores with spare words and immense splendor of sentiment in “Hymn to Time” from her final poetry collection, Late in the Day (public library) — a poem embodying her conviction that “science describes accurately from outside, poetry describes accurately from inside, [and] both celebrate what they describe.”

In this recording created as a warmup for our second annual Universe in Verse, astrophysicist Janna Levin — who has written beautifully about the nature of time herself — brings Le Guin’s poem to life in thirty-five transcendent seconds:

HYMN TO TIME
by Ursula K. Le Guin

Time says “Let there be”
every moment and instantly
there is space and the radiance
of each bright galaxy.

And eyes beholding radiance.
And the gnats’ flickering dance.
And the seas’ expanse.
And death, and chance.

Time makes room
for going and coming home
and in time’s womb
begins all ending.

Time is being and being
time, it is all one thing,
the shining, the seeing,
the dark abounding.

Complement with Hannah Arendt on space, time, and our thinking ego, then revisit Le Guin’s feminist translation of the timeless Tao Te Ching and Levin’s splendid reading of “Planetarium” by Adrienne Rich from the inaugural edition of The Universe in Verse.


Published April 23, 2018

https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/04/23/ursula-k-le-guin-hymn-to-time-janna-levin/

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