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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