Edmund Halley’s Ode to Isaac Newton (1686)

Lo, for your gaze, the pattern of the skies!
What balance of the mass, what reckonings
Divine! Here ponder too the Laws which God,
Framing the Universe, set not aside
But made the fixed foundations of his work.

The inmost place of the heavens, now gained,
Break into view, nor longer hidden is
The force that turns the farthest orb. The sun
Exalted on his throne bids all things tend
Toward him by inclination and descent,
Nor suffer that the courses of the stars
Be straight, as through the boundless void they move,
But with himself as centre speeds them on
In motionless ellipses. Now we know
The sharply veering ways of comets, once
A source of dread, nor longer do we quail
Beneath appearances of bearded stars.

At last we learn wherefore the silver moon
Once seemed to travel with unequal steps,
As if she scorned to suit her pace to numbers –
Till now made clear to no astronomer;
Why, though the Seasons go and then return,
The Hours move ever forward on their way;
Explained too are the forces of the deep,
How roaming Cynthia bestirs the tides,
Whereby the surf, deserting now the kelp
Along the shore, exposes shoals of sand
Suspected by the sailors, now in turn
Driving its billows high upon the beach.

Matters that vexed the minds of ancient seers,
And for our learned doctors often led
to loud and vain contention, now are seen
In reason’s light, the clouds of ignorance
Dispelled at last by science. Those on whom
Delusion cast its gloomy pall of doubt,
Upborne now on the wings that genius lends,
May penetrate the mansions of the gods
And scale the heights of heaven. O mortal men,
Arise! And, casting off your earthly cares,
Learn ye the potency of heaven-born mind,
Its thought and life far from the herd withdrawn!

The man who through the tables of the laws
Once banished theft and murder, who suppressed
Adultery and crimes of broken faith,
And put the roving peoples into cities
Girt round with walls, was founder of the state,
While he who blessed the race with Ceres’ gift,
Who pressed from grapes an anodyne to care,
Or showed how on the tissue made from reeds
growing behind the Nile one may inscribe
Symbols of sound and so present the voice
For sight to grasp, did lighten human lot,
Offsetting thus the miseries of life
With some felicity. But now, behold,
Admitted to the banquets of the gods,
We contemplate the polities of heaven;
Discern the changeless order of the world
And all the aeons of its history.

Then ye who now on heavenly nectar fare,
Come celebrate with me in song the name
Of Newton, to the Muses dear; for he
Unlocked the hidden treasuries of Truth:
So richly through his mind had Phoebus cast
The radiance of his own divinity.
Nearer the gods no mortal may approach.

Edmund Halley’s Ode to Isaac Newton (1686)

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