The poet astronaut

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who returned to Earth yesterday after five months in the International Space Station, is a great communicator and entertainer who has almost singlehandedly, it is said, stirred up people’s interest in space exploration again. He tweeted and sang from space and made videos about living at the station that have garnered some 22 million views.

But here’s what strikes me as I look at Hadfield’s amazing photographs and their accompanying twitter-length commentary: the man is a poet.

Hadfield wrote: “These mouthwatering folds of icing are actually Saudi sand”

Hadfield wrote: “Pillowy farms of Eastern Europe, tidily etched in snow”

It could be argued that Hadfield’s photographs are the stunning feature of his twitter communication, presenting as they do new ways of seeing places on Earth. Yet the accompanying words are hugely important and interesting too, sometimes as a matter of information about a location or phenomenon, sometimes as humor (re. photo of the Galapagos — “just far enough apart to give Darwin something to think about”), and often as poetry, by which I mean the use of images or language that brings unlike things together and/or creates or intensifies understanding.

There are so many examples I could cite. “A springtime haze laps on the evening shore of the Alps.” “This lake looks like it’s burrowing its way across the landscape.” “Clouds swoop in on Crimea, a white bird on the Black Sea.” “The first light of the rising sun turns our solar arrays to woven gold.” “The dry folded skin of the Sahara desert, looking like the crust of a pie.” “Brussels gleams like a lace jewel.” “A blackness like endless velvet.” “Clouds over western Europe, rippled like water over a stone.” Wouldn’t you agree that even the words on their own offer insights into Earth from space?

Hadfield wrote: “A lot of the Australian Outback looks like somebody spilled something on it.”

For me, viewing the photographs and reading the commentary is one Praise Be! after the other. (See a collection of “best”photographs here, the twitter feed here). Chris Hadfields’s legacy may be an awakened interest in space exploration but the gift he gives me is Earth (“I’m still in love with what the Earth shows me each day”). Or maybe I should say, his translation of space’s perspective on Earth as put into words.

Hadfield wrote: “The yin and yang of ice and land at Lake of the Woods.”

6 thoughts on “The poet astronaut

  1. Thanks for posting this, Dora! Such amazing photos. I’ve been so impressed with Cmdr. Hadfield’s tweets and posts from space, so informative and inspiring … he has the soul of an artist. (I loved his performance with the Bare Naked Ladies!) I’d be interested to know where Cmdr. Hadfield stands in his own faith journey. I think I’d have a hard time not believing after seeing it all from up there.

    • Well Kelly, you’re the journalist/editor, wouldn’t that be a story to go after for CW?
      Following is from an article about Hadfield by Christopher Guly in Feb.2011: ‘On God, Hadfield says that while he prefers to keep his beliefs to himself, issues of faith are discussed at great length on board space shuttles and stations, and within the astronaut corps.
      “We are in the position of looking at the world as an extremely rare, precious jewel in the middle of a lot of apparent emptiness. How can you not look at that and wonder how did that get there? Was it random chance or part of some design?
      “Every religion helps you answer those questions, and I don’t know any astronaut that doesn’t have a core belief of some sort that gave them the strength to pursue the life they pursued.
      “But telling people what got me there was a particular set of beliefs diminishes the overall purpose. I’m extremely inclusionary in my philosophies, and I despair sometimes at the things we do in the name of belief.”

  2. Thanks, Dora, for your reaction to this very unique and gifted man.
    You, too, are definitely and “artist.”
    Thanks also for providing the links to Hadfield’s photos and tweets.

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