Making waves, Albert Einstein: Science & Life, Martin Zarrop
V.Press, 2019 £6.50
This pamphlet centres on one character: the theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, originator of the world’s most famous equation. Some of the poems are in the first person (the scientist’s own voice); others refer to him in the third. Epigraphs to a number of the poems are the oddly human words of Einstein himself. And that is what I suppose struck me most — how human he was — this man who has always seemed to me larger than real life, distanced by his genius.
There’s humour here, too. One lovely quotation from Einstein’s letters reads: ‘What I most admired in [Michele Bessol] as a human being is the fact that he managed to live for many years not only in peace but also in lasting harmony with a woman — an undertaking in which I twice failed rather disgracefully.’
The two women with whom Einstein failed (Mileva Marić and Elsa Löwenthal) feature notably. In ‘The New Violin’, for example:
At forty, the way ahead is clear,
a new wife walking at his side.
To celebrate, he buys another violin
and glances back, half-expecting to glimpse
Mileva limping a few steps behind.
But Mileva has her own thoughts. In ‘No’ she says:
Even my closest friends admire
Einstein’s achievements as if they were
personal virtues, but Helene said:
I no longer care for him.
No, I no longer care for him.
Increasingly, the tone reflects the sadness of this clever man who (on the personal side of things) miserably failed. The personal and the scientific come together in ‘Entanglement’ where ‘A phantom haunts the universe, / a quantum thread that binds our lives / to distant mass, refusing to let go.’ The phantom turns out to be particularly human: ‘I thought I saw her yesterday / and wept’.
Even the title poem, ‘Making waves’ (the waves are gravitational) brings together the two sides of Einstein’s life:
He wasn’t always sure
they could actually exist,
like marital harmony
or world government
After reading these poems, I think of the great man differently. He has stepped down from his stone pedestal. He has turned into a human being.