Mars Rover Poetry by John Updike

I wish every day could start out like today: I get my coffee, fire up the laptop, and only have one email waiting for me.  And it contains a poem I’ve never read.  By John Updike.  About Spirit and Opportunity:

Duet on Mars

by John Updike

Said Spirit to Opportunity, 
   “I’m feeling rather frail, 
With too much in my memory, 
   Plus barrels of e-mail.” 

Responded Opportunity, 
   “My bounce was not so bad, 
But now they send me out to see 
   These dreary rocks, bedad!” 

“It’s cold up here, and rather red,” 
   Sighed Spirit. “I feel faint.” 
Good Opportunity then said, 
   “Crawl on, without complaint! 

“This planet needs our shovels’ bite 
   And treadmarks in the dust 
To tell if life and hematite 
   Pervade its arid crust.” 

“There’s life, by all the stars above, 
   On Mars—it’s you and I!” 
Blithe Spirit cried. “Let’s rove, my love, 
   And meet before we die!” 

I love it.  Updike’s rovers are eloquent romantics.  They feel the weight of their adversity, yet a deep commitment to the science compels them forward.  They remind me of graduate students.

As far as personified rovers go, I’ll take Updike’s Spirit and Opportunity over LiveJournal’s spritrover and opportunitygrrl any day.

Yes it’s true – someone has written LiveJournals for the Mars Exploration Rovers.  They are slangy teenage sisters, intensely jealous of each other’s fame, who offer “big rover hugz” to the “Earthpeeps” who read their journals.  They’re hilarious, actually, and you should definitely check them out.  

But their voices don’t exactly carry the same poetic reverence as John Updike’s.  We will miss him.

Explore posts in the same categories: Fun Stuff, MER

5 Comments on “Mars Rover Poetry by John Updike”

  1. phoenixpics Says:

    That’s a great poem! Some of my humble efforts here, if anyone would like a look…

  2. Infamousginger Says:

    Reminds me of this one which is sciency but not astronomical. From Kevin’s Mom

    Watch out or I’ll write you a Haiku. (Ask Ryan)

    When you were a tadpole and I was a fish
    In the Paleozoic time,
    And side by side on the ebbing tide
    We sprawled through the ooze and slime,
    Or skittered with many a caudal flip
    Through the depths of the Cambrian fen,
    My heart was rife with the joy of life,
    For I loved you even then.

    Mindless we lived and mindless we loved
    And mindless at last we died;
    And deep in the rift of the Caradoc drift
    We slumbered side by side.
    The world turned on in the lathe of time,
    The hot lands heaved amain,
    Till we caught our breath from the womb of death
    And crept into light again.

    We were amphibians, scaled and tailed,
    And drab as a dead man’s hand;
    We coiled at ease ‘neath the dripping trees
    Or trailed through the mud and sand.
    Croaking and blind, with our three-clawed feet
    Writing a language dumb,
    With never a spark in the empty dark
    To hint at a life to come.

    Yet happy we lived and happy we loved,
    And happy we died once more;
    Our forms were rolled in the clinging mold
    Of a Neocomian shore.
    The eons came and the eons fled
    And the sleep that wrapped us fast
    Was riven away in a newer day
    And the night of death was past.

    Then light and swift through the jungle trees
    We swung in our airy flights,
    Or breathed in the balms of the fronded palms
    In the hush of the moonless nights;
    And, oh! what beautiful years were there
    When our hearts clung each to each;
    When life was filled and our senses thrilled
    In the first faint dawn of speech.

    Thus life by life and love by love
    We passed through the cycles strange,
    And breath by breath and death by death
    We followed the chain of change.
    Till there came a time in the law of life
    When over the nursing side
    The shadows broke and soul awoke
    In a strange, dim dream of God.

    I was thewed like an Auruch bull
    And tusked like the great cave bear;
    And you, my sweet, from head to feet
    Were gowned in your glorious hair.
    Deep in the gloom of a fireless cave,
    When the night fell o’er the plain
    And the moon hung red o’er the river bed
    We mumbled the bones of the slain.

    I flaked a flint to a cutting edge
    And shaped it with brutish craft;
    I broke a shank from the woodland lank
    And fitted it, head and haft;
    Then I hid me close to the reedy tarn,
    Where the mammoth came to drink;
    Through the brawn and bone I drove the stone
    And slew him upon the brink.

    Loud I howled through the moonlit wastes,
    Loud answered our kith and kin;
    From west and east to the crimson feast
    The clan came tramping in.
    O’er joint and gristle and padded hoof
    We fought and clawed and tore,
    And check by jowl with many a growl
    We talked the marvel o’er.

    I carved that fight on a reindeer bone
    With rude and hairy hand;
    I pictured his fall on the cavern wall
    That men might understand.
    For we lived by blood and the right of might
    Ere human laws were drawn,
    And the age of sin did not begin
    Till our brutal tush were gone.

    And that was a million years ago
    In a time that no man knows;
    Yet here tonight in the mellow light
    We sit at Delmonico’s.
    Your eyes are deep as the Devon springs,
    Your hair is dark as jet,
    Your years are few, your life is new,
    Your soul untried, and yet –

    Our trail is on the Kimmeridge clay
    And the scarp of the Purbeck flags;
    We have left our bones in the Bagshot stones
    And deep in the Coralline crags;
    Our love is old, our lives are old,
    And death shall come amain;
    Should it come today, what man may say
    We shall not live again?

    God wrought our souls from the Tremadoc beds
    And furnished them wings to fly;
    We sowed our spawn in the world’s dim dawn,
    And I know that it shall not die,
    Though cities have sprung above the graves
    Where the crook-bone men make war
    And the oxwain creaks o’er the buried caves
    Where the mummied mammoths are.

    Then as we linger at luncheon here
    O’er many a dainty dish,
    Let us drink anew to the time when you
    Were a tadpole and I was a fish.

    — Langdon Smith

  3. […] Prachtig gedicht! Mmmmm, ik ga toch eens een boek van hem lezen. Bron: Martian Chronicles. […]

  4. […] little Martian poem! Comments […]

  5. […] See John Updike’s “Duet on Mars” – a dialogue between rovers Spirit and Opportunity – at […]

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