A Universe of Atoms, An Atom In The Universe

Poem written by physicist Richard Feynman.

poem an atom in the universe by richard feynman

American physicist Richard Feynman was a man who always jumped into an adventure. He was an artist, a story-teller and an everyday joker whose life was a combination of his intelligence, curiosity and uncertainty.

In the summer of 1955, Feynman wrote a poem about the earth and its development as a planet of activity, of living things and ultimately of beings who would be able to think and wonder. This poem came right after the discovery of Miller-Urey experiment.


Feynman says,

I stand at the seashore, alone, and start to think.
There are the rushing waves
mountains of molecules
each stupidly minding its own business
trillions apart
yet forming white surf in unison.

poem an atom in the universe by richard feynman

Ages on ages,
before any eyes could see
year after year,
thunderously pounding the shore as now.
For whom? For what?
On a dead planet
with no life to entertain.

Never at rest
tortured by energy
wasted prodigiously by the sun
poured into space.
A mite makes the sea roar.

Deep in the sea
all molecules repeat
the patterns of one another
till complex new ones are formed.
They make others like themselves
and a new dance starts.

Growing in size and complexity
living things
masses of atoms
DNA, protein
dancing a pattern ever more intricate.

Out of the cradle
onto dry land
here it is
atoms with consciousness;
matter with curiosity.

Stands at the sea,
wonders at wondering: I
a universe of atoms
an atom in the universe.

poem an atom in the universe by richard feynman

In a free verse poem Feynman has demonstrated once again the great extent of his intellect and imagination.

Earth was once a lifeless planet.

A whole lot of activity was still made possible because of the presence of the sun. This went on for "ages and ages" meaning for the amount of time we cannot comprehend since we can only think about in days, weeks and months.

Then, deep in the sea, under conditions as described by British-Indian biologist Haldane, a whole range of organic molecules began to mature as discovered by Miller-Urey experiment in 1952.

A whole lot of activity happened in a distant past to give birth to creatures who could think and wonder today. Feynman ends the story by saying, "My mortal body is indeed a universe of atoms but I am just an atom in the universe myself," which is a great realization.


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