Discovering Rightness

by Gary Paul Lehmann


Young Isaac Newton escaped the Cambridge plague of 1666 by returning to his stone cottage in Woolsthorpe. At night, quite alone, he looked through the leaded glass windows at his bedside into the cool light of the great heavens which slowly shifted position above him like a giant clockwork pulverizing time on the grindstone of shifting space.

The unknown always seems chaotic and menacing
until superstitions give way to suspicions.
Inevitable rightness can't be defined or refined at the time.
It just feels right in the light of celestial might.

At 23, Newton's young eyes were sharp. He devised a system to record the placement of each planet within the diamond shaped quadrants of his bedroom window panes. As he kept his records month after month and read the mathematics of Tyco Brach, he found in the night skies patterns that transformed a cold and ruthless canopy into a predictable embracing universe.

The unknown always seems chaotic and menacing
until superstitions give way to suspicions.
Inevitable rightness can't be defined or refined at the time.
It just feels right in the light of celestial might.

Newton observed the planets moving not in circles but in ellipses. Objects accelerate as they approach the sun and are retarded as they move away throwing the pathway out of round. Newton discovered that he could calculate speeds that depend upon a hundred variables even when their influences are never the same from one instant to the next, so discovering calculus.

The unknown always seems chaotic and menacing
until superstitions give way to suspicions.
Inevitable rightness can't be defined or refined at the time.
It just feels right in the light of celestial might.

His neighbors thought him quite mad. Why should young Newton try to write down the sky in numbers? Doesn't science have finer tools than leaded glass templates? How can such a fabric of speculation be true? Newton looked up into his sky with renewed admiration. All was suddenly right. His neighbors were angry. Newton broke open their sky, revealing an emptiness which frightened them.

His form emerged from their chaos, while their chaos emerged from his form.


First published in The Roundtable
Copyright © 2000, Gary Paul Lehmann


Gary Lehmann teaches writing and poetry at the Rochester Institute of Technology. His poetry and short stories are widely published — about 60 pieces a year. He is the director of the Athenaeum Poetry group which recently published their first chapbook, Poetic Visions. When not writing or teaching, he interprets 19th century shoemaking at the Genesee Country Museum.



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Image slice courtesy of NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)