Being but Men: Astronomer Natalie Batalha Reads Dylan Thomas’s Cosmic Serenade to Trees and the Wonder of Being Human

Crowning the canon of branched reflections on what it suggests to be human is the poem “Being however Men” by Dylan Thomas (October 27, 1914– November 9, 1953).

They are both less alive than we think and more sentient than we believed. In them, we see what we see and are what we can be.

Composed in 1939– a time when we were all “males,” a time when Thomas was only twenty-five– and posthumously consisted of in the indispensable Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas (town library), it came alive anew at the 2020 Universe in Verse, commemorating fifty years of Earth Day, in a reading by astronomer Natalie Batalha, who spearheaded NASAs Kepler objective and its search for habitable worlds outside our planetary system and who prefaced her reading with a personal reflection as poetic as the poem:

BEING BUT MENby Dylan Thomas
Being however guys, we strolled into the treesAfraid, letting our syllables be softFor fear of waking the rooks, For fear of comingNoiselessly into a world of wings and cries.
If we were kids we may climb, Catch the rooks sleeping, and break no twig, And, after the soft ascent, Thrust out our heads above the branchesTo wonder at the never-failing stars.
Out of confusion, as the way is, And the marvel, that guy understands, Out of the mayhem would come happiness.
That, then, is loveliness, we said, Children in marvel viewing the stars, Is the goal and completion.
Being but males, we strolled into the trees.

Complement with astronaut Leland Melvin– one of a handful of human beings in the history of our species to have actually seen Earths trees from the home location of the stars– checking out Pablo Nerudas love letter to the forest, Mary Olivers poem “When I Am Among the Trees,” and Annie Dillard on what mangrove trees teach us about our look for significance in an objective universe, then revisit an unusual recording of Dylan Thomas reading his iconic poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” along with the story behind it– a poem popularized amongst a new generation by the final scene of Interstellar, a movie amusing in sci-fi the possibilities Natalies work in science holds for our shared future as sojourners in space.

Enjoy more highlights from The Universe in Verse– a charitable celebration of science and the marvel of nature through poetry– here.