crabtree watching the transit of Venus A.D. 1639


I used to spend my lunch hour in Manchester’s town hall. I’d stand in front of a mural by Ford Madox Brown, eat potato chips, and wonder about the time and people who had passed by the painting since it first found its home upon the wall.

Art and architecture and celestial mechanics always make me wonder like this. And Brown’s mural, “Crabtree watching the Transit of Venus A.D. 1639”, buried in that Gothic building, is a little bit of all three.

We know so much, or think we do, that the astronomy behind today’s transit isn’t new or interesting anymore. But there’s a lot of deep-seated comfort in the solid, steady cycle that’s the orbit of planets and stars. In the knowledge that natural things always have their time and place even if our own trajectories are so bent and misshapen we hardly recognize them.

I get all caught up in it sometimes, and in that Mary Oliver poem, about the geese, which I don’t really like, but which comes to mind all the same.

Meanwhile the world goes on.
And the sun moves across the landscape.

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4 Comments

  • Sara
    Jun 6, 2012 at 19:28

    Love those murals.

  • Nikki
    Jun 6, 2012 at 22:04

    “You do not have to be good.
    You do not have to walk on your knees
    for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves.”

    How can you not love that?

  • AD
    Jun 9, 2012 at 21:00

    I never took you for a Mary Oliver girl.

  • Melissa
    Jun 11, 2012 at 4:50

    This Kentucky girl loves Mary Oliver, and this mural, and Venus in her transit, and this blog. Hello! from across the pond, while the fireflies blink outside, doing their June thing. It’s been a while since I’ve checked in, here. I wonder the same sorts of things about the parade of lives across my own little patch of ground. I like to peep through boxes of their old black & white photographs in junk shops, and daydream about what the little boy did with the rest of his afternoon, after the tricycle, and where the young couple with the car were going. The number of years that places in Europe go back is even more overwhelming to think about. And the stars were somewhat differently placed in their journey across the sky, the farther back you look. Dizzying.

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