The Speed of Light


We look at a star, two thousand light-years
away from us; we see it as it was
two thousand years ago.

An intelligent being on that star
trains his high-powered telescope
upon our planet, and sees
the crucifixion of Jesus.

For us, it happened two thousand years ago.
He sees it live, as it is happening;
for, after all, it is happening now.

From a star much nearer,
another intelligent being observes
the Battle of Hastings.

It offends against reason;
it cannot be right,
that this be brought about
by the speed of light.

But the whole quantum world
affronts logic and reason.
Argue about it all day, all night,
but it exists; oh yes, it exists all right.

I think about the speed of light;
get a glimmer of an insight
into what is meant by physicists
when they claim Time does not exist.

For, depending where
you are in the Multiverse,
everything is always happening,
for better or worse.

I will always associate the British writer/philosopher Brian Magee (born 1930) with the most enjoyable three years of my life, spent studying for a Humanities degree (as a “Mature Student” aged twenty six) at Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology.  The main subject of my degree – European Thought and Literature – was exactly what I was passionately interested in, and Brian Magee became part of it all when, in 1978, he presented a series on BBC Television called “Men of Ideas”.  I remember watching the programme every week, fascinated by Magee’s conversations with some of the most eminent philosophers of the time. 

I have followed his literary/broadcasting career ever since, and so I was fully aware that his latest book “Ultimate Questions” is intended to be a final resume of the ideas that have obsessed him throughout his life.  I have yet to read the full book, but I immediately went onto Amazon to have a look, and found myself reading the first chapter.  I soon realized that what Magee was doing in this first section was compressing a vast amount of information about the speed of light into a relatively short space.  As I read, the full import of what he was saying started to sink in, and I have tried to express it in the above poem.


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