Song of Two Worlds

Song of Two Worlds

by Alan Lightman


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“VERDICT A vivid and moving book-length narrative poem that places the reader inside of a universe of wonder; of interest to poetry readers and beyond.” — Library Journal

From the author of international bestseller Einstein's Dreams and National Book Award nominee The Diagnosis.

After decades of living “hung like a dried fly,” emptied and haunted by his past, the narrator, a man who has lost his faith in all things following a mysterious personal tragedy, awakens one morning revitalized and begins a Dante-like journey to find something to believe in, first turning to the world of science and then to the world of philosophy, religion, and human life. As his personal story is slowly revealed, little by little, we confront the great questions of the cosmos and of the human heart, some questions with answers and others without. An exciting new illustrated edition of a unique narrative poem.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781597090322
Publisher: Red Hen Press
Publication date: 02/10/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 583,929
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Alan Lightman, physicist, essayist, and novelist, is Professor of the Practice of the Humanities at MIT, where he was the first person to receive a joint appointment in the sciences and the humanities. Lightman’s writing has appeared in Harper’s, Salon, The New Yorker, The Atlantic , and many other publications. His widely known Einstein’s Dreams was an international bestseller, and his novel The Diagnosis was a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction. His recent book The Accidental Universe was chosen by Brain Pickings as one of the best ten books of the year. He lives in Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt


Abbas and I shovel sheep dung,

My olive trees hunched

Like a throng of old men—

Sun overhead, I look up

And I gaze at the clouds—

This is the way that I see:

Ten trillion photons of light make their way

Through my pupils each second of time,

Through the oval-shaped lens, through

The jelly-like fill to the retina, hundreds

Of millions of cells, where each photon

Of light meets a molecule, retinene, coaxing

It straight from its twisty vine,

Curled bougainvillea-like. Neurons

Respond to the dance. Protein molecules shift

In their shape, so that sodium cannot find

Passage, electrical charge unrelieved,

Shudder of current moves through

The neurons and flies to the folds of my brain.

Here the fourth layer is sentry, receives

The first tingle, computes a sensation,

And passes its tremblings to five other sheets.

In shards of a second, some hundreds

Of millions of neurons start quivering,

Each being shocked by one thousand others

And doing the same to one thousand more.

Click-click-click sound the firings,

Some punctured and scattered, some synchronized.

Click-click the pulsings in waves—

And my brain tells me “cloud.”

I believe in the knowledge of sight.

Table of Contents

Part I: Questions with Answers

Part II: Questions without Answers

List of Photographs

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

The book begins with an un-named protagonist finding himself suddenly moved to re-examine his life, both to confront past tragedies and failings and also to look for meaning. We overhear his thoughts as he uses his scientific skill to interrogate the mechanisms of the cosmos and the workings of his own body. When he reaches the limits of scientific ‘questions with answers’ he turns to ‘questions without answers’ which must be explored by faith, art or philosophy. Alongside rehearsals of insights by great thinkers and teachers we also get glimpses of the narrator’s relationship with an old and loyal servant. This weaving of the lofty with the human and mundane is one of the more effective aspects of the book.
— Michael Bartholomew-Biggs, London Mathematical Society, May 2010

Alan Lightman could have written this verse narrative that brings together his explorations in the worlds of science, art and philosophy and makes of them this strange and mysterious but seamless and beguiling whole.
— Anita Desai, July 2009

Lightman's Song of Two Worlds is of consistent high quality and poetic energy. To begin with, the perspective is intelligently conceived, surprising, and productive. The provenance of the speaker who obviously is routed in the Islamic culture, his scientific competence, his familiarity with history-combined with his personal view, his regular life, his introspective mood, all this creates a captivating and innovative narrative verse. Congratulations!
— Hans Magnus Enzensberger, July 2009

In taking on several more layers than the usual two-cultures-debate-featuring works, and quite successfully dealing with them, Song of Two Worlds is a nice addition to the scientific-poetic library.
— M. A. Orthofer, The Complete Review, October 2009

Song of Two Worlds has been chosen as one of Seed Magazine's "Books to Read Now" for the month of November. Click on the link above for details!
— Seed Magazine, November 2009

Alan Lightman's Song of Two Worlds has been reviewed in Nature Magazine! Click the link above for access to the article.
- -NATURE Magazine, November 2009

Song of Two Worlds by Alan Lightman is currently being featured on New Scientist's Holiday wish list. Check out the link above for details!
— Liz Else, New Scientist, December 2009

Created by a man of science and art, Alan Lightman's work is a unique thing to behold. "Song of Two Worlds" is a collection of poetry from the physicist, as he blends his two disciplines well for a truly fascinating insight into the world around us. With fine verse, "Song of Two Worlds" is a top pick.
The Midwest Book Review, December 2009

Alan Lightman was recently profiled by a new online site, Chapter 16. This site is dedicated to Tennessee writers and readers. Please click on the link above for the full article!
— Maria Browning, Chapter 16, January 2010

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Song of Two Worlds 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Odysseus-Redux More than 1 year ago
"Song of Two Worlds" by Alan Lightman (2009). Visceral, sensual, and reflective. This is a book of verse that is a bridge between science and the arts (to which only a few can do well - and one is Lightman). The book is like describing a fine wine - notes of Ovid and Pablo Neruda, Virgil and Dante are layered in, and with nuances of T.S. Eliot's 'Four Quartets.' Set in an a sparse, yet exotic locale, the words are of honeycomb and dates and sun-baked bread. The human soul in search of questions - more than answers.