The Universe, Contracted to a Span

After seeing some astronomy photos today, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for those times when poets who write after the tradition of John Donne compare their object of love with the world or the universe. Quite literally, these pictures of a galaxy and nebula I saw look just like an iris. A pair of them could make eyes you can get lost in. It’s a nice little example of microcosm / macrocosm. Ahh poetry, where I first learned all this.

In The Sun Rising, which I don’t particularly recommend you read as it was written before John Donne converted to Christianity and hence is suggestive and saucy (though I had to read it in high school), Donne writes these lines:

 Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus ;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.

Disregarding the hubris of thinking they are the world, that’s a typically romantic idea, to think of the other as the world or at least to tell them that. I don’t think that’s a particularly helpful or romantic gesture myself, but I do know it’s a common cliché. Rather, this idea is an idolatrous one, beginning with assuming that the world is pre-eminent in importance and the greatest thing existing that one could possess, and transferring that idolatry from world to a person. This of course assumes that they are thinking of possessing the world as possessing its pleasures and riches, not in the sense of… reaching the peoples of the world with the good news of salvation in Christ for the glory of God, say.

I’ve digressed, even if it was fruitful. Here are the two pictures:

The Triangulum Galaxy

The Crab Nebula

In a beautiful pair of eyes, it can seem like the universe is contracted in a span – but this is only a metaphor.