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## The Aurorae come south

On Thursday night / Friday morning the Aurorae made a visit as far south as Wales, which is a pretty rare occurrence. When I got home on Thursday night at about 10:30 I remarked to my children that it was clear, which in itself has been pretty rare this winter. I blogged about what causes the Aurora Borealis (or Australis if you are in the Southern Hemisphere) in this blog here.

Sadly I did not know that there was an aurora alert, so the didn’t see them myself. Ah well, hopefully there will be other opportunities over the next few months, as the Sun is coming back to a Solar maximum. Here are some pictures that I have garnered from Facebook in the last few hours, including one taken in North Wales. I heard that they were seen as far south in Wales as the Brecon Beacons.

From the Orkney Islands, taken by Dave Wakefield, who commented that they were the best he’d ever seen.

This stunning picture of the Aurorae was taken in North Wales by Adi Kinsley Hughes.

This picture was taken in Northern Island and is from valianfotography.

Did you manage to see the Northern Lights this Thursday night? Or, have you ever seen them?

## Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns N’ Roses (song)

As anyone who reads my music blogs will know, I am not a huge fan of heavy rock music. Yes, I do like rock music, but not anything approaching heavy metal. I would rather stick pins in my eyes than listen to AC/DC, or Judas Priest, or Metallica, or bands of that ilk.

One of the reasons I am such a huge fan of The Beatles is the sheer diversity of their music. Their songs range from some of the most tender love songs (e.g. “Yesterday”, “Norwegian Wood”, “Because”) to “rock” songs like “Get Back”, “I Want You (She’s so Heavy)” and “Helter Skelter”. I cannot think of any other band with such a broad range of musical styles, and that is why they will probably never be surpassed as the greatest band of all time.

That having been said, every so often I do like a song by a rock band. A good friend of mine is a big fan of Guns N’ Roses, and suggested I should get their classic album “Appetite for Destruction”, so I did. Sadly for her, I have not been converted, I did not like most of the songs on the album. In fact, the only two I did like were songs I already knew as they had been released as singles. These were “Paradise City” and this song, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”.

Considering how much I like this song, it surprises me that I cannot abide most of the songs on this album. But, there we go, one cannot explain musical taste or why one likes or does not like a song. One of the reasons I have never been able to get into Guns N’ Roses is because of their lead singer, Axel Rose. To me, he comes across as a complete plonker, but I have to admit his vocals on this song are great. And, of course, the guitar riff by Slash which opens the song is one of the best guitar riffs in rock.

She’s got a smile that it seems to me
Reminds me of childhood memories
Where everything
Was as fresh as the bright blue sky
Now and then when I see her face
She takes me away to that special place
And if I’d stare too long
I’d probably break down and cry

Oh, Oh, Oh
Sweet child o’ mine
Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh
Sweet love of mine

She’s got eyes of the bluest skies
As if they thought of rain
I hate to look into those eyes
And see an ounce of pain
Her hair reminds me of a warm safe place
Where as a child I’d hide
And pray for the thunder
And the rain
To quietly pass me by

Oh, Oh, Oh
Sweet child o’ mine
Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh,
Sweet love of mine

Oh, Oh, Oh, yeah
Sweet child o’ mine
Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh
Sweet love of mine

Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh
Sweet child o’ mine
Oh,
Sweet love of mine

[Guitar Solo]

Where do we go?
Where do we go now?
Where do we go?
Oh, Oh
Where do we go?
Oh,
Where do we go now?
Where do we go?
Oh, (sweet child)
Where do we go now?
Oh,
Where do we go now?
Oh,
Where do we go?
Oh,
Where do we go now?
Oh,
Where do we go?
Where do we go now?
Where do we go?
Oh,
Where do we go now?
No, No, No, No, No, No
Sweet child,
Sweet child of mine.

Here is the official video for the song. Enjoy!

Which is your favourite Guns N’ Roses song?

## Measuring the Solar System – part 1

In June 2012 I travelled to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia to observe the 2012 Transit of Venus, the last one until December 2117. But, my reason for wanting to see this event was not just because they are incredibly rare. It was also because of their historical importance. They provided the first reliable method astronomers had for measuring the distance from the Earth to the Sun.

Over the next several weeks I will blog the slides from a lecture I put together back in 2004 (when we also had a Transit), explaining how a Transit of Venus can be used to measure the distance from the Earth to the Sun. I also provide some of the historical background to early observations of transits, including the heroic efforts undertaken by scientists in the mid 1700s.

This is the first part of the lecture, taking us from early Geocentric models of the Solar System to Galileo’s evidence that the Sun (and not the Earth) was at the centre of the Solar System, and up to the first ever predicted Transit, which was in 1631, although as far as we know no-one observed it.

This is a lecture I gave in Mongolia the night before the June 2012 Transit of Venus, but it is based on a talk I gave to schools and the public in 2004.

## The 500 greatest albums – number 392 – Let It Be (The Beatles)

At number 392 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 greatest albums of all time is “Let It Be” by The Beatles. The list from 400 to 391 is as follows:

• 400 – “Anthology” by The Temptations (1995)
• 399 – “Rain Dogs” by Tom Waits (1985)
• 398 – “Eliminator” by ZZ Top (1983)
• 397 – “Blue Lines” by Massive Attack (1991)
• 396 – “For Your Pleasure” by Roxy Music (1973)
• 395 – “Sound of Silver” by LCD Soundsystem (2007)
• 394 – “Good Old Boys” by Randy Newman (1974)
• 393 – “Kala” by M.I.A. (2007)
• 392 – “Let It Be” by The Beatles (1970)
• 391 – “The Pretender” by Jackson Browne (1976)

The only one of these albums which I own is “Let it Be”, although I do have albums by Tom Waits and Roxy Music. I also own songs by The Temptations, ZZ Top, and Jackson Browne. I have heard of Massive Attack, but have no idea who LCD Soundsystem or M.I.A are.

“Let it Be” was the last album that The Beatles released, although it was actually recorded before “Abbey Road”. The album was released as the soundtrack to the film of the same name. Paul McCartney had the idea in late 1968 of filming The Beatles in the studio, and putting together a “fly on the wall” documentary of the band which would include live recordings of their performing new songs. The band started filming in Twickenham film studios in January 1969, but the sessions there soon degenerated into bickering and fighting.

At number 392 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 greatest albums is “Let it Be” by The Beatles.

The movie ended up being a documentary about the disintegration of The Beatles, rather than a celebration of their music. Here is the official trailer for the film.

This short clip here is typical of the sort of fighting the cameras were witness to – George Harrison getting fed up of having Paul McCartney dictate his guitar playing to him and saying “I’ll play whatever you want me to play, or I won’t play at all if you don’t want to me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.”

The film itself has not been available since the 1980s, and so far has not been re-released on DVD. Apparently The Beatles would prefer it not to be re-released as it casts the band in such a negative light. But, despite the unhappy circumstances surrounding the film and the accompanying album, there is some very fine music on this album.

It is the only Beatles album not produced by George Martin. The film and album were abandoned as The Beatles relationship with each other deteriorated. Then American producer Phil Spector was brought in to put an album together. He added his trademark orchestral embellishments on many of the songs, so on songs like John Lennon’s “Across the Universe” for example, the orchestral arrangements were added by Spector.

## Track listing

Side 1 :
1. “Two of Us”
2. “Dig a Pony”
3. “Across the Universe”
4. “I Me Mine”
5. “Dig It”
6. “Let It Be”
7. “Maggie Mae”
Side 2 :
1. “I’ve Got a Feeling”
2. “One After 909”
3. “The Long and Winding Road”
4. “For You Blue”
5. “Get Back”

In 2003 The Beatles released a new version of this album, entitled “Let it Be… Naked”. Overseen by McCartney, it features stripped down versions of the songs, so for example one can hear the original “acoustic” version of “Across the Universe”. In general I like the stripped down versions of the songs more than the Phil Spector versions, but both albums are great albums in my opinion. I am surprised the album is so low in the 500 greatest albums list, and below some of the other Beatles albums.

I have already blogged about their live performance of “Get Back” on the roof of the Apple building in London. So, today I thought I would include the title track. Although it is one of The Beatles’ most well known songs, “Let it Be” it is still one of their best and a fitting swan-song to the greatest band in history.

Which is your favourite song on this album?

## Cheese making in DR Congo

My wife drew my attention to this fascinating story which appeared on the BBC news website a few weeks ago. It is the unlikely story of a man in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who makes fine cheese. It is a legacy of the country’s days under colonial Belgian rule.

Andre Ndekezi’s farm is in Masisi, a village in a hilly region in the East of the DRC, near the borders with Rwanda and Uganda. Although we in Europe and North America tend to think of Africa as all dry scorched land and droughts, this part of DRC has lush green hills and plentiful rainfall, ideal for dairy cattle and for producing cheese.

Masisi is marked by the “A” flag in this map, in the East of the DRC near its borders with Rwanda and Uganda.

Ndekezi was taught to make cheese by Belgian monks in the early 1970s, and is one of the few cheese producers in Africa. I remember in the 1980s the London Government introducing milk quotas to farmers in England and Wales, which effectively limited how much milk each farm could produce. Where I grew up in West Wales, a number of the dairy farmers started using their excess milk production to make cheese, and quite a number of nice cheeses from West Wales can now be bought in markets and even supermarkets in Wales (and maybe outside of Wales?).

I am a big fan of cheese of all types, although I vividly remember the first time I tried a cheese that was not the traditional “Cheddar” or “Red Leicester” or “Caerffili” so beloved by people in the Disunited Kingdom. I was 19 at the time, and was offered some French brie for the very first time. It was pretty mature, and completely different to any cheese I had tasted before – I didn’t like it at all! It took me several more tries of brie before I acquired a taste for it, and now I regularly eat brie, camembert and other soft French cheeses. I hope one day to get the opportunity to travel to this part of Africa to try for myself this unusual product of the DRC!

My snack last night. Brie and crackers. Delicious!

## The 3rd weekend of the 2014 6 Nations

Two countries went into the 3rd weekend of the 2014 6 Nations on course for a Grand Slam, France and Ireland. But, in a thrilling weekend of rugby, both were defeated. This leaves four countries with 2 wins from 3 games, – France, Ireland, Wales and England.

## Wales v France

After their humiliation in Dublin, Wales not only needed a win against France, but ideally a convincing win. They could not have answered their critics more emphatically, thrashing France 27-6. Everything that went wrong in Dublin went right against France, the front five were immense and France were unable to cope with the power and execution shown by the Welsh forwards.

Wales scored two tries, including a try by George North within the first few minutes. By half time Wales were 20-6 ahead, and the game was essentially over. Remarkably, France had the lion’s share of the possession and territory in the game, but failed to take their chances. Not only will the Welsh camp be pleased with the margin of victory, but the way the Welsh defence completely shut out the dangerous French players will give defence coach Sean Edwards immense satisfaction. We can go into the match at Twickenham in two weeks’ time with our confidence restored.

## Italy v Scotland

There has been some talk in the last two weeks that Scotland have been so dire in the 6 Nations of late that they should be replaced by another country! I am definitely not in favour of such a thing. People may forget that back in the late 1990s and early 2000s there were suggestions that France and England were so dominant in the 6 Nations that they should break away and join the southern Hemisphere teams in an annual tournament, and leave the Celtic countries and Italy to form their own competition. But, who has dominated the 6 Nations in the last 8 years? Wales! England have not won the 6 Nations since 2003! The strength of most countries (maybe with New Zealand as an exception) tends to come in cycles, and Scotland are just going through a bad phase at the moment.

I only saw the last 15 minutes of the game between Italy and Scotland, but what a thrilling final 15 minutes it was! In the short time I was watching, I saw Scotland score a try to take the lead, lose their lead with Italy scoring a try, then with less than a minute to go and the score at 20-18 to Italy, Scotland dropped a goal to make it 20-21 and steal a win. I am pleased for Scotland that they finally scored some tries, and pleased for rugby in general because a poor Scotland is not a good thing for the world of rugby.

## England v Ireland

What a titanic game this was. At half time, England were ahead 3-0, with both teams knocking ten bells out of each other all over the park. Then, in the first two minutes of the 2nd half, Ireland scored a try and then a penalty to go 10-3 ahead. They looked dominant, and most people including myself probably thought that they would strangle England and go on to win. But, fair play to England, they kept their cool and came back with a try and penalty of their own, and then kept their narrow 13-10 lead despite immense pressure from Ireland in the last 10 minutes.

It really was a thrilling game, low scoring maybe, but pure attritional rugby and the level of commitment from all 30 players on the pitch was immense. It was also a landmark win for England. One amazing statistic I heard was that Brian O’Driscoll had 30-something more caps than the entire England backs, all seven of them together! Whatever England lack in experience, winning this game over Ireland will go a long way to making them believe in themselves.

## The 4th round

This weekend’s results set up a mouth-watering 4th round in two weeks’ time. Ireland should have a relatively easy game at home to Italy. France take on Scotland in Edinburgh, which on paper should be a French win, but after their hapless display against Wales who knows? But, the big game of the 4th weekend is the Sunday match between England and Wales at Twickenham.

Wales went a long time in the 1990s and early 2000s of not winning at Twickenham, but have beaten England 2 of the last 3 meetings there in the 6 Nations. England have looked very good this 6 Nations, and as I said after the first weekend, they really should have beaten France in Paris in their opening game. Wales, on the other hand, had a lacklustre win over Italy followed by a pummelling by Ireland and then an emphatic victory over France. Both teams should go into the game with confidence, but will England be haunted by their thrashing in Cardiff last March? I hope so! It should be a real thriller.

## Can Wales redeem themselves after Dublin drubbing?

This evening Wales take on France in a must-win game in this year’s RBS 6 Nations. Lose at home tonight, and Wales will be facing mid-table mediocrity rather than trying to retain the 6 Nations title for a record third consecutive year. The big news from the team announcement on Wednesday is that Gatland has dropped Lions’ scrum half Mike Phillips to the bench, bringing in Rhys Webb of the Ospreys in his place.

After Wales’ appalling display against Ireland in Dublin two weeks ago, where they were thrashed 26-3, we have a chance to get our 2014 6 Nations campaign back on track. But we are facing a France who have won 2 from 2, with a thrilling last-minute win over England in their opening game, and then a comfortable win over Italy in the 2nd weekend.

Wales haven’t become a bad team overnight, but the way in which they were dismantled by Ireland up-front has been a big worry for Welsh rugby fans and for the Wales coaching team. Alun Wyn Jones, the Wales second row who captained the Lions in their 3rd Test rout of Australia back in July, vows that Wales will not allow themselves to be outmuscled up-front by France as they were by Ireland.

We shall have to wait and see, but all I can say is that this game is massive for Wales. Win it and our confidence will hopefully come back, which is so vital to the way Wales play rugby. But, if we lose, I fear we will have a poor 2014 and go into next year’s World Cup year not firing in the way we were just 11 months ago when we thrashed England in Cardiff. Fingers crossed!

## Measuring the sizes of stars

Last week I blogged about how we measure the brightnesses of stars, and how at optical (and near infrared) wavelengths we use something called the magnitude system. Remember, the magnitude system has its zero point defined by Vega, so there is a conversion between the magnitude of a star and its luminosity. Astronomers tend to observe and measure the brightness of stars through a set of standard filters, for example the Johnson UBV system (U – ultraviolet, B – blue and V – visual). The diagram below shows the transmission curves for these three filters.

One of the standard set of filters used in astronomy is the Johnson UBV system.

The conversion between the apparent magnitude of a star when measured in the V-band $m_{V}$ and its actual flux density (energy flowing per second per unit area per unit frequency interval) is

$m_{V} = 0 \rightarrow L = 3640 \times 10^{-26} \text{ W/m}^{2} \text{/Hz}$

Referring back to blackbody curves, which I discussed in my blog about the OBAFGKM spectral classification system, we see that to get the total power per unit area from a blackbody we have to first of all sum over all frequencies (or wavelengths). This is just the area under the blackbody curve. The formula for this is the Steffan-Boltzmann law which is

$\text{ Power per unit area } = \frac{ P }{ A } = \sigma T^{4}$

where $\sigma$ is the so-called Steffan-Boltzmann constant. So, we can see that the power emitted per unit area by a blackbody, such as a star, is simply related to its temperature. Remember also that the wavelength of the peak of the blackbody curve depends on temperature, as given by Wien’s displacement law

$\lambda_{peak} = \frac{ 0.029 }{ T }$

where we need to measure the wavelength $\lambda$ in metres and the temperature $T$ in then given in Kelvin.

The figure below shows three blackbody curves for blackbodies of different temperatures, $T=7000, 5270 \text{ and } 4000 \text{ Kelvin}$. These temperatures correspond to a blue star ($T=7000 \text{K}$), a yellow star like the Sun ($T=5270 \text{K}$) and a red star ($T=4000 \text{K}$.

This figure shows the curves for three different blackbodies, at temperatures of T=7000, 5270 and 4000 Kelvin. Notice that not only does the position of the peak change, but also the height of the peak and the total area under the curve.

## Red Giants

Notice that the area under the red star’s curve is much smaller than the area under the other two. Yet, when we calcualted the intrinsic luminosities of stars in my blog about measuring the brightnesses of stars, we saw that Betelgeuse, a red star, is 10,000 times brighter than the Sun. How can it be both cooler and brighter?

The answer is that the area under the curve is the power per unit area, and the area we are talking about is the surface area of the star, given by $A=4 \pi R^{2}$ where $R$ is the radius of the star. Therefore, the only way a cool star can be brighter than a hotter star is if its surface area is bigger, so we know that Betelgeuse must be physically a much larger star than the Sun.

The luminosity of a star, let us call it $L$, is going to be dependent on both its temperature and its surface area (from the Steffan-Boltzmann law), so, we can write

$L \propto R^{2} T^{4}$

To compare the luminosity of e.g. Betelgeuse $L_{Bet}$ to that of the Sun $L_{\odot} \text{ (} \odot$ is the standard symbol used in astronomy for the Sun) we can write

$\frac{ L_{Bet} }{ L_{\odot} } = \frac{ R_{Bet}^{2} T_{Bet}^{4} }{ R_{\odot}^{2} T_{\odot}^{4} }$

Re-arranging, this gives that the ratio of the radius of Betelgeuse compared to the radius of the Sun $\frac{ R_{Bet} }{ R_{\odot} }$ as

$\frac{ R_{Bet} }{ R_{\odot} } = \frac{ T_{\odot}^{2} }{ T_{Bet}^{2} } \sqrt{ \frac{ L_{Bet} }{ L_{\odot} } }$

Betelgeuse has a surface temperature of about $T=3000 \text{K}$ as measured from its blackbody spectrum, and as we saw in this blog, the ratio of its luminosity to the luminosity of the Sun is 10,000 (Betelgeuse is intrinsically 10,000 times brighter than the Sun). The surface temperature of the Sun is $T_{\odot} = 5800 \text{K}$, so plugging these numbers in gives us

$\boxed{ \frac{ R_{Bet} }{ R_{\odot} } = \left( \frac{ 5800 }{ 3000} \right)^{2} \sqrt{ \frac{ 1 \times 10^{4} }{ 1 } } = 373.77 \approx 375!!! }$

As we know the distance from the Earth to the Sun, and can measure the angular size of the Sun as seen from the Earth (it is about half a degree), a simple big of trigonometry gives the radius of the Sun as about 700 million metres, so the radius of Betelgeuse is about $2.63 \times 10^{11} \text{m}$. An AU, the average distance from the Earth to the Sun, is about 150 million km, or $150 \times 10^{9} \text{m}$, so the radius of Betelgeuse is approximately $\boxed{ 1.75 \text{AUs!!} }$.

This means that, if we were to replace the Sun with Betelgeuse, even Mars would lie within the outer envelope of the star. This is why we call such intrinsically bright, red stars red giants, they truly are enormous!

## Queen reaches 6 million

It was announced on the news last week that the Greatest Hits album by Queen had become the first album in the Disunited Kingdom to pass 6 million sales. It had been the best selling album ever in the DUK for quite a number of years, but passing 6 million sales is quite a milestone.

It was announced last week that Queen’s album “Greatest Hits” had become the first album to sell more than 6 million copies in the Disunited Kingdom.

This album was released in 1981, and I have a copy on vinyl, although I have long since transferred it to mp3 format so I can listen to it on-the-go. Queen were my son’s favourite band a few years ago, and when I pulled out my vinyl copy to show him I found that I had my ticket to see them live in Wembley in 1986 blue-tacked onto the inner sleeve (see my photo below). It was a nice reminder of a truly remarkable concert. I cannot think of a better showman that Freddie Mercury, he had the 80,000+ crowd in the palm of his hand during that concert as he strutted all over the stage.

This album, as the name implies, contains Queen’s greatest hits, or to be more correct their greatest hits up to 1981. There is a second volume of their later greatest hits which I also own. The album has the following track listing (the list also shows from which album the song came and who wrote the song):

1. “Bohemian Rhapsody” (from A Night at the Opera, 1975) Freddie Mercury
2. “Another One Bites the Dust” (from The Game, 1980) John Deacon
3. “Killer Queen” (from Sheer Heart Attack, 1974) Freddie Mercury
4. “Fat Bottomed Girls” (single version, from Jazz, 1978) Brian May
5. “Bicycle Race” (from Jazz, 1978) Freddie Mercury
6. “You’re My Best Friend” (from A Night at the Opera, 1975) John Deacon
7. “Don’t Stop Me Now” (from Jazz, 1978) Freddie Mercury
8. “Save Me” (from The Game, 1980) Brian May
9. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (from The Game, 1980) Freddie Mercury
10. “Somebody to Love” (from A Day at the Races, 1976) Freddie Mercury
11. “Now I’m Here” (from Sheer Heart Attack, 1974) Brian May
12. “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy” (from A Day at the Races, 1976) Freddie Mercury
13. “Play the Game” (from The Game, 1980) Freddie Mercury
14. “Flash” (single version, from Flash Gordon, 1980) Brian May
15. “Seven Seas of Rhye” (from Queen II, 1974) Freddie Mercury
16. “We Will Rock You” (from News of the World, 1977) Brian May
17. “We Are the Champions” (from News of the World, 1977) Freddie Mercury

Notice how the list contains songs written by three of the band’s four members. This is something which sets Queen apart from many other bands, and I think is one of the reasons for their appeal as it leads to a great diversity in their work, just like it did for The Beatles with their three song writers, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. Unlike The Beatles, however, all of Queen’s songs are sung by Freddie Mercury (with maybe one or two exceptions), but when you have as good a voice as Freddie Mercury it is difficult to justify using another band member to sing some songs!

As you may also notice in the screen capture, or if you follow the link and go to the story, the top selling albums in the DUK from 1 to 5 are also listed in the story, these are:

1. Greatest Hits – Queen (6 million)
2. Greatest Hits – Abba (5.1 million)
3. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (5.1 million)
4. 21 – Adele (4.7 million)
5. What’s the Story Morning Glory – Oasis (4.6 million)

I will blog separately about this top 5 list, but just to quickly mention that Adele’s “21” has only been out since January 2011, whereas “Sgt. Pepper” was released in 1967. One might therefore assume that Adele’s album will overtake The Beatles, but this is not necessarily the case. Sgt. Pepper has sold consistently since its release, whereas it is possible that Adele’s album will sell little more as the years go on. It is too early to say.

I thought I would conclude this blog by choosing one of the songs from the Queen’s Greatest Hits album. Rather than choosing the obvious “Bohemian Rhapsody”, I thought I would choose a less well known song of theirs, “Save Me”, written by Brian May. It nicely shows their more tender side, although it does include the trademark guitar solo by Brian May.

It started off so well
They said we made a perfect pair
How I loved you,
How I cried…..
The years of care and loyalty
Were nothing but a sham it seems
The years belie we lived a lie
“I’ll love you ’til I die”

Save me Save me Save me
I can’t face this life alone
Save me Save me Oh…
I’m naked and I’m far from home

The slate will soon be clean
I’ll erase the memories,
To start again with somebody new
Was it all wasted
All that love?…..
A soul for sale or rent
I have no heart, I’m cold inside
I have no real intent

Save me Save me Save me
I can’t face this life alone
Save me Save me Oh…
I’m naked and I’m far from home

Each night I cry, I still believe the lie
I’ll love you ’til I die

Which is your favourite song on this Greatest Hits album?

## O me! O life! – Walt Whitman (poem)

Today I thought I would share this wonderful poem by Walt Whitman, “O me! O life”. It is in his collection of poems Leaves of Grass, a volume that was first published in 1855 and included just twelve poems. But, Whitman revised and added poems to this volume throughout his life, so the final version of the collection, published in 1892, the year of his death, is very different from the first edition with over 400 poems!

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was an American poet, whose main collection of poetry is “Leaves of Grass”. This poem, “O me! O life!” appears in that collection.

I have blogged previously about a Walt Whitman poem, namely “O Captain! My Captain!”, a poem about Abraham Lincoln. This poem , “O me! O life!” is much shorter, and more direct.

O me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

In the inspirational movie Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams’ character uses this poem to explain to his students why the human race reads and writes poetry.

Which is your favourite Walt Whitman poem?