Sing Books with Emily, the Blog

On Shakespeare’s 400th (and 452nd), an excellent speech for a Whitman poem

Posted on: April 23, 2016

Today, 4/23/2016 is Shakespeare’s 452nd birthday and also the 400th anniversary of his death.

Folger Shakespeare Library hosted a wonderful celebration of Shakespeare’s legacy with a program that was broadcast on C-Span II.

Ellen Stofan, NASA Chief Scientist, stood up to give a speech about how Shakespeare inspires her work.  Her speech spoke to me like a longer prose re-telling of Walt Whitman’s poem WHEN I HEARD THE LEARN’D ASTRONOMER, which happens to be one of my favorite illustrated poems to sing.

A couple years ago, I was trying (and failing) to find a succinct way explain to a group of very young kids (it might even have been Kindergarten), how I thought PUFF THE MAGIC DRAGON and WHEN I HEARD THE LEARN’D ASTRONOMER had such a similar message.  It took a 5 or 6 year old to put it so perfectly and simply. Raising her hand a child said, “It means, Don’t lose the magic.”  She was exactly right.  This is what I think Ellen Stofan was also saying in her speech.  Science helps us to understand the universe in provable facts.  But we should also not lose our wonder in the story, art, and magic of it all.  This is what makes the facts MATTER.

I was inspired, so used the forward and rewind features of our TiVo to write out some of the speech which spoke to me, and will remember when I sing the song to kids in classrooms.

C-Span 2
400 Years of Shakespeare at Folger Shakespeare Library
Speech by Ellen Stofan, NASA Chief Scientist
About 19 minutes into the broadcast, about halfway into her speech.

The ability to bring life into art and to make it last for centuries, that is the gift of Shakespeare. I find in the timeless appeal and relevance of Shakespeare, the same thing that I actually love about geology. About the study of our earth, our solar system, our universe. For Billions of years, stars, planets, galaxies are born. They live. They die. We came from stardust and we return to it. For the study of astrophysics or astrobiology is just that, a wonderful, complex story with depth and drama. Just the kind that Shakespeare told so well. I actually get frustrated sometimes with scientists who tell the public the facts and leave out the stories behind the science. Burying people in jargon and method…

Shakespeare knew how to tell the story of the lives of people on the planet. In science, we try to take apart all that is behind the story…but we need to take on this difficult challenge using both sides of our brain using our head and our hearts.  Great science is about so much more than analyzing data.  It’s about dreaming big.  it’s about creativity.  It’s about inspiration and asking the right questions.

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when i heard the learn'd astonomer loren long
When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
Words by Walt Whitman
Music by Various Artists
Pictures by Loren Long

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Related Posts

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WHEN I HEARD THE LEARN’D ASTRONOMER, AN ILLUSTRATED SONG
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/when-i-heard-the-learnd-astronomer-a-singable-poem-by-walt-whitman/

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POETRY SINGABLE POETRY IN COMPILATIONS

An list of  singable poems from compilations of poetry for children
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/singable-poetry-a-list-of-poems-that-can-be-sung-from-illustrated-compilations-of-poetry-and-singable-picture-books/

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POETRY, SINGABLE POETRY IN INDIVIDUALLY ILLUSTRATED SINGABLE PICTURE BOOKS
A list of individually illustrated poems that have been set to music and can be sung
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/poems-individually-illustrated-spb/

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PUFF AND THE ASTRONOMER: DON’T LOSE THE MAGIC
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/puff-and-the-astronomer-dont-lose-the-magic/

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ILLUSTRATED SONG/BOOK SETS
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/songbook-sets/

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KEEP YOUR IMAGINATION FOREVER
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/keep-your-imagination-forever-profound-kid-art/

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GALLERY OF KID ART FOR SBWE
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/praise-portraits-from-friends-of-sbwe/

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STARS
Stars, a List of Illustrated Songs that Celebrate Stars
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2015/02/06/stars-a-list-of-illustrated-songs-that-celebrate-stars/

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THE DRAGON, THE ASTRONOMER AND THE ARTIST
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2015/08/15/the-dragon-the-astronomer-and-the-artist/

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SHAKESPEARE
William Shakespeare in Singable Picture Books
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/shakespeare-in-singable-picture-books/

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