Astronomer Dr. David Levy Talks About The Link Between Literature And The Stars

Apr 13, 2018

Dr. David Levy has discovered 23 comets and is most famous for co-discovering Shoemaker-Levy 9.  That’s the comet that impacted Jupiter in July 1994, the first planetary impact by a comet ever observed by humans.  So you might think that Dr. Levy’s doctorate is in astronomy or one of the sciences.  But it’s not.  He received his Ph.D. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem after completing his English Literature thesis: “The Sky in Early Modern English Literature: A Study of Allusions to Celestial Events in Elizabethan and Jacobean Writing, 1572-1620.”  The renowned astronomer was at SUNY Plattsburgh this week to give a talk on Poets and Astronomers.  Levy begins part two of his conversation with WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley citing his favorite quote from Shakespeare’s Henry VI.

“Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!
Comets, importing things of time and space,
Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky.”  (Henry VI, Act One, Scene One)

Levy ends our conversation reciting a Gerald Manley Hopkins poem:
“I am like a slip of comet,
Scarce worth discovery, in some corner seen
Bridging the slender difference of two stars.
But when she sights the sun she grows and sizes
And spins her skirts out, while her central star
Shakes its cocooning mists; and so she comes
To fields of light; millions of traveling rays
Pierce her; she hangs upon the flame-cased sun,
And sucks the light as full as Gideon's fleece.
But then her tether calls her; she falls off.
And as she dwindles shreds her smock of gold
Amidst the sistering planets,
And then goes out into the cavernous dark.
So I go out. My little sweet is done.
I have drawn heat from this contagious sun.
To not ungentle death now forth I run.”

Part one of our conversation with Dr. David Levy on his comet discoveries is at wamc.org