William B. Watterson

(23 August 1943)

Cogito Ergo Sum

(Galileo Galilei, from Arcetri,1638)

My telescope astounded and amazed.
The moons of Jupiter I viewed and knew
That farther I had seen than any man
Before. Pope Urban, awed by my perceptive
Prowess in astronomy, praised my
Inquisitive and investigative bent.
My 'Dialogues' the scientific world
Received with openness and lauded all
My wit and logic. And even censors
Gave the needed stamp of sanction.

With men of greatness I conversed and met.
They sought me out and spread my work abroad
Like fertile seeds that ride upon the wind,
To lodge, and sprout, and rise to grow again
In a vast diaspora of fecund germination.
To stop the truth? One may as well assay
To tame the tides, or still a plunging cataract,
Suppress the stars that nightly thrum with the
Deep mysterious music of the spheres.

Why, then, cannot the Church admit the earth
Rotates about the sun, that Aristotle, Ptolemy,
And those whose geocentric claims have missed
The mark stand sorely wrong? Heliocentric
Heresy the Inquisition vowed
I favored, so here I languish in Arcetri,
A man confined to die in my own home.
'And yet it moves, ' they swore they heard me say.

Devout and worthy all my life, I now
Am blind and past three score and ten,
Like Oedipus an outcast in my native
Land, my loved ones all quite lost to me:
Virginia dead, and Livia sequestered still;
Vincenzio, my only son, musician, protégé,
A stranger to me now; my brother Michelangelo
Perished in the plague, to me long gone.

And what, I ask, can now be left for me,
Bereft, blind, infirm, an exile in my villa,
Sight stolen by whatever whims of fate
Control men's destinies, my body broken
And bowed by age, my freedom purloined
By those who deem God's Truth anathema?

But instinct yet compels me to declare
The mind is its own place, and in my soul
I soar above this crushed and shattered frame
To heights as yet unknown to mortal men,
Where even eagles do not dare to fly.

Submitted: Thursday, April 19, 2012
Edited: Sunday, June 15, 2014

Topic(s): history

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Poet's Notes about The Poem

This poem is a dramatic monologue written primarily in blank verse [unrhymed iambic pentameter].The title is a well-known quotation from philosopher Rene Descartes. The inspiration for the poem is a book called 'Galileo's Daughter' by Dava Sobel.

Galileo Galilei, sometimes called the 'father of modern science, ' was a Renaissance writer, mathematician, and astronomer who perfected the telescope. He was an early favorite of Pope Urban VIII, but he later fell out of favor and was tried for heresy by the Italian Inquisition in 1633. He had three children: Virginia and Livia [both nuns], and a son, Vincenzio. His brother was Michelangelo Galilei [not the famous painter of the same first name].

Galileo was convicted of heresy for his heliocentricism, sentenced to house arrest at his villa in Arcetri, and died there on January 8,1642. Galileo met many people during his life, including young John Milton. Some readers will recognize a line in the last stanza that foreshadows a line from Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

Comments about this poem (Cogito Ergo Sum by William B. Watterson )

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  • Diane Hine (8/18/2014 8:01:00 PM)

    Clear and moving. Blank verse is challenging to write but worthwhile - it really works well here. (Report) Reply

    William B. Watterson (8/19/2014 6:51:00 AM)

    Thanks for your positive comment on my poem Cogito Ergo Sum. I am glad you appreciate it. I deem it to be one of my best efforts. I invite you to read my latest posting called Of Time And The River. Again, Thanks.

Read all 2 comments »

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