Understanding as Comfort: “The Sciences Sing a Lullabye”


By Christy Tidwell

As I noted in my earlier discussion of Robert Kelly’s “Science,” poetry and science are not as separate as we might often think: they are both creative, and they both challenge us to see the world in new ways. In “The Sciences Sing a Lullabye” (2007), Albert Goldbarth illustrates another similarity between science and poetry by personifying the sciences (specifically physics, geology, astronomy, zoology, psychology, biology, and history) and imagining them as comforting figures.

Geology says: It will be all right.

Albert Goldbarth, “The Sciences Sing a Lullabye”

It is comforting to think, as Physics tells us, that our atoms will “dance / inside themselves themselves without you,” or, as Geology says, that “All of the continents used to be / one body. You aren’t alone.” Meanwhile, Astronomy comforts the reader with a reassurance that “the sun will rise tomorrow” while History hands us “the blankets, layer on / layer, down and down.” In other words, the processes of our bodies and of the world will continue, even without our attention. And science is what provides the evidence of this continuation.

This may seem obvious, but it’s nice to be reminded sometimes. The poem highlights science’s potential to help us understand these patterns more fully and to rely upon them. And Goldbarth’s poetic approach comforts in its use of personification to make technical topics more approachable.

Physics says: go to sleep. Of course
you’re tired.

Albert Goldbarth, “The Sciences Sing a Lullabye”

This poem shows that poetry and science can be not only challenging but also comforting. Better understanding the world through the language of poetry and the data of science can help us to find patterns to rely on even in the midst of change, upheaval, or simple exhaustion.

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