Magnitudes

By Howard Nemerov 1920–1991 Howard Nemerov
Earth’s Wrath at our assaults is slow to come
But relentless when it does. It has to do
With catastrophic change, and with the limit
At which one order more of Magnitude
Will bring us to a qualitative change
And disasters drastically different
From those we daily have to know about.
 
As with the speed of light, where speed itself
Becomes a limit and an absolute;
As with the splitting of the atom
And a little later of the nucleus;
As with the millions rising into billions—
The piker’s kind in terms of money, yes,
But a million2 in terms of time and space
As the universe grew vast while the earth
Our habitat diminished to the size
Of a billiard ball, both relative
To the cosmos and to the numbers of ourselves,
The doubling numbers, the earth could accommodate.
 
We stand now in the place and limit of time
Where hardest knowledge is turning into dream,
And nightmares still contained in sleeping dark
Seem on the point of bringing into day
The sweating panic that starts the sleeper up.
One or another nightmare may come true,
And what to do then? What in the world to do?

Howard Nemerov, “Magnitudes” from Trying Conclusions: New and Selected Poems, 1961-1991. Copyright © 1992 by Howard Nemerov. Reprinted by permission of Margaret  Nemerov.

Source: Trying Conclusions: New and Selected Poems 1961-1991 (1992)

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Poet Howard Nemerov 1920–1991

Subjects Nature, Arts & Sciences, Sciences, Social Commentaries, Life Choices, Stars, Planets, Heavens

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Howard  Nemerov

Biography

Howard Nemerov was a highly acclaimed poet often cited for the range of his capabilities and subject matter, "from the profound to the poignant to the comic," James Billington remarked in his frequently quoted announcement of Nemerov's appointment to the post of United States poet laureate. A distinguished professor at Washington University in St. Louis from 1969 to 1990, Nemerov wrote poetry and fiction that managed to engage . . .

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SUBJECT Nature, Arts & Sciences, Sciences, Social Commentaries, Life Choices, Stars, Planets, Heavens

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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