French poet Paul Valery’s first encounter with Poe’s Eureka was profound. He was a student of literature, growing ever more discontent with the field’s lack of discovery. The academy’s lack of passion frustrated him. Its view of science left him listless.
Eureka opened doors to the realm of discovery; it opened doors to the intersection between science and literature. “Eureka made me feel some of this passion,” the scientist’s passion for discovery, for essence, for logical order.
Valery then went on to speak of Eureka, saying that he was fascinated by its “affirmation of the symmetrical and reciprocal relationship of matter, time, space, gravity, and light. I emphasize the word symmetrical, for it is, in reality, a formal symmetry which is the essential characteristic of Einstein’s universe. Herein lies the beauty of his conception.
Indeed, Einstein encountered Poe’s Eureka in the early 1930s, writing that he had “partly studied Eureka” saying that it “radiates from this wonderful man.” He described the opening section as “a very beautiful achievement of an unusually independent mind.”
In the 1940s Einstein would mysteriously deny having ever read Eureka calling Poe vision of the universe comparable “to the scientific crank-letters I receive every day.”
Some have speculated that Einstein’s reversal of opinion on Poe had more to do with the fact that, like Valery’s assertion, Poe’s theory of the universe has an uncanny similarity to Einstein’s.
Whatever the truth of Einstein’s feelings and conclusions about the scientific side of Poe’s Eureka, it is time for Poe’s vision of the universe, in both its scientific and spiritual dimensions, to find a broader public.
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