for SSAA Voices Unaccompanied
Text by Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin
Duration: 2.25 min.
Dedication: for Ensemble Lyrae
Commission: Commissioned by Ensemble Lyrae
Research (2023) sets a poem of the same title by astronomer Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (1910–1979).
“In 1925, in [Payne’s] 215-page Harvard doctoral thesis that made her the first person to earn a PhD in astronomy at Radcliffe-Harvard, Payne discovered the chemical composition of stars—the “stuff” the cosmos is made of, which was, much to scientists’ surprise, the selfsame “stuff” of which we too are made. It was a shock and a revelation—a landmark leap in our understanding of the universe and of ourselves. Six decades after her doctoral thesis, Payne ended her autobiography with a short poem of her own, celebrating the scientific muse that governed her trailblazing career—a beautiful articulation of the universal motive force that impels all great scientists to do what they do.” (Maria Popova, The Marginalia)
O Universe, O Lover,
I gave myself to thee
Not for gold
Not for glory
But for love.
Our children are immortal,
I am the Mother.
The offspring of our love
Will bear the image of a humble mother
And also a proud imperious Father.
I saw him in a stream of glowing stars;
Long, long I lay in his terrible embrace.
Their sons go striding round the firmament;
My children gambol at their heels.
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (1910–1979)
from Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: An Autobiography and Other Recollections
Copyright © 1984, 1996 Cambridge University Press