Thoughts on Feeling Carbon-Dated

Clive James

No moons are left to see the other side of.
Curved surfaces betray once secret centres.
Those plagues were measles the Egyptians died of.
A certain note of disillusion enters.

Were Empson starting now no doubt exists
That now no doubt exists about space-time’s
Impetuosity his pithy gists
Would still stun, but no more so than his rhymes.

Physics has dished its prefix meta. Science,
First having put black shoes and a blue suit on,
Controls the World’s supply of mental giants.
A Goethe now would lack words to loathe Newton.

It’s forty years since James Joyce named the quark.
Now nobody’s nonplussed to hear light rays
Get sucked down holes so fast they show up dark.
Nor would the converse of that news amaze.

It all gets out of reach as it grows clear.
What we once failed to grasp but still were thrilled with
Left us for someone else, from whom we hear
Assurances about the awe they’re filled with.

One night in Cambridge Empson read to us.
He offered us some crisps and seemed delighted
So many young should still want to discuss
Why science once got laymen so excited.