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Origins of the empirical method

Galileo climbed to the top of the tower from where he addressed his students

as they gazed at him from below: ‘Now watch,’ he called down at them, 

‘My left hand holds a miniature day in glass: a row of houses, 

between them a street down which an old man walks, 

children skating, people shovelling coal, a servant washing clothes.  

On my right, a human heart, taken from a corpse found below the city walls

its dark surface blistered and cratered as though every insult, every sorrow

had left its mark.  When I let them go, which do you think will fall first?’


But he wasn’t satisfied with their guesses, so he said, ‘Pay attention: 

In the palm of my left hand, I’m holding a raindrop. It reflects the sun’s passage 

across the blue vaults above as if inscribed in silver. In my cupped right hand 

I’m holding a tear I have taken from the corner of an eye 

that belongs to a corpse found below the city walls.  

Opaque as chalcedony it holds neither joy nor sadness.

Divested of its purpose it no longer shines with hopes or memories.

When I turn my hands over, which will be first to drop to the ground?’


Now there is general consternation in the little group below

and even some vituperation between scientific factions as they form.  

Troubled and dispirited by their failure to understand his experiments

Galileo descends from the tower.  He asks the students to examine

his left eye, then his right.  ‘Out of one’, he says, ‘I see truly

and without aid, how the moon wavers and swings in its path, I pierce

the veils that surround Venus.  My other eye perceives halos around bodies 

that I know are not there. Which eye should I use to read the charges against me?’


But by this time, however, no-one’s answering and no-one’s guessing. 

Having found the demonstrations difficult and perplexing, 

the students have left for a popular bar in the centre of Pisa 

where they are enjoying their beers.  From under the awnings

they are watching raindrops falling from the sky 

like tinsel or snow, held and shaken inside a huge glass dome.

Highly commended, 29th Melbourne Poets Union International Poetry Prize 2024

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