The living nautilus actually lives only in the outermost,
largest chamber of its shell. As it grows, it continually builds larger and
larger chambers, leaving the smaller ones behind.
In his poem “The Chambered Nautilus,” Oliver
Wendell Holmes Sr. imagines the growth and death of a nautilus found on the
seashore as a call to spiritual growth. “As the spiral grew,” he
says, “he left the past year’s dwelling for the new …Build thee more
stately mansions, O my soul, / As the swift seasons roll! Leave thy low-vaulted
past! / Let each new temple, nobler than the last, / Shut thee from heaven with
a dome more vast”
This got us thinking. Science, too, builds then rebuilds as
new evidence is accumulated. Theories are constructed, then subsumed, or even
abandoned. Our animation shows the progression of our understanding of the
skies, from Ptolemy to Einstein, shutting us from heaven with a dome ever more
We hope you like it.
“The Chambered Nautilus”
By Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
the unshadowed main,—
venturous bark that flings
the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
coral reefs lie bare,
the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.
webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
is the ship of pearl!
every chambered cell,
its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
thee lies revealed,—
irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!
after year beheld the silent toil
spread his lustrous coil;
as the spiral grew,
left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
with soft step its shining archway through,
up its idle door,
in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.
for the heavenly message brought by thee,
of the wandering sea,
from her lap, forlorn!
thy dead lips a clearer note is born
ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!
on mine ear it rings,
the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:—
thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
the swift seasons roll!
thy low-vaulted past!
each new temple, nobler than the last,
thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
thou at length art free,
thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!