The Universe in Verse

Consider the dazzling odds: Out of the billions upon billions of possible combinations, a planet whose sole satellite is exactly 400 times smaller than its star and exactly 400 times closer, so that each time it passes between the two, it covers the face of the star perfectly, thrusting the planet into midday night, into something surreal and sublime.

Randomness seems too small a word for the staggering improbability that is a total solar eclipse. We may call it wonder. We may call it mystery. We may just fall silent before its brutal beauty, the way it presses consciousness against the gun barrel of time. Totality transported Virginia Woolf to “the birth of the world.” Annie Dillard saw in its almost unbearable strangeness a lens on “our complex and inexplicable caring for each other, and for our life together here.” Maria Mitchell, traveling fifteen hundred miles in her Quaker gown to lead an eclipse expedition of the world’s first women astronomers, was stunned by the “inky blackness” and the flowerlike prominences around the Sun’s disc and the silver streamers its corona sent “millions of miles into space” — tendrils of the majesty and mystery of nature, touching for a blink of time the depths of human nature with raw transcendence.

On the eve of the 2024 total solar eclipse — the last in North America for twenty years, and the first to sweep so vast a portion of the continent since Maria Mitchell’s day — more than 3,000 people are gathering in person under the starlit skies of Austin’s Waterloo Greenway to reverence Earth’s most sublime communion with the cosmos.

Join us across spacetime via livestream to savor the wonder behind eclipses: the formation of the Moon and the chemistry of the Sun, gravity and relativity, tides and black holes, the discoveries of Kepler and Newton, the fate of the passenger pigeon and the historic eclipse expedition that catapulted Einstein into fame.

Illustrating the science and the stories will be poems old and new, from Walt Whitman and Robinson Jeffers to Hannah Emerson and Rita Dove, performed by a constellation of inspired and inspiring minds, including authors Rebecca SolnitRoxane Gay, and James GleickOn Being creator Krista TippettRadiolab creator Jad Abumrad, multidisciplinary artist Helga Davis, artist and Design Matters creator Debbie Millman, actor Natascha McElhone, cosmologist and saxophonist Stephon Alexander, poets Marie Howe and Ellen Bass, musicians Joan as Police Woman and David Byrne, and a special surprise guest.

There will be magic and there will be music.