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Many of the titans of literature have left, alongside a body of work that models powerful writing, aboding evidence on the craft that examines the source of that power. Unrivaled among them in the combination of cultural impact and sheer splendor of prose is Rachel Carson — the Promethean writer and marine biologist whose 1962 masterwork of moral courage, Silent Spring ignited the modern environmental movement.
Carson, who made an art of illuminating nature beyond scientific fact, resented the notion that science is somehow separate from life. Our only means of upending the conventions and belief systems we resent is by modeling superior alternatives, and that is precisely what Carson did with her 1937 masterpiece Undersea, which pioneered a new way of writing about science with a strong lyrical sensibility, revealing the native poetry of nature. The piece became the seed for Carson’s 1951 bestseller The Sea Around Us, which won her the National Book Award.
The materials of science are the materials of life itself. Science is part of the reality of living; it is the what, the how, and the why of everything in our experience. It is impossible to understand man without understanding his environment and the forces that have molded him physically and mentally.
The aim of science is to discover and illuminate truth. And that, I take it, is the aim of literature, whether biography or history or fiction; it seems to me, then, that there can be no separate literature of science.
My own guiding purpose was to portray the subject of my sea profile with fidelity and understanding. All else was secondary. I did not stop to consider whether I was doing it scientifically or poetically; I was writing as the subject demanded.
The winds, the sea, and the moving tides are what they are. If there is wonder and beauty and majesty in them, science will discover these qualities. If they are not there, science cannot create them. If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry.
The writer must never attempt to impose himself upon his subject. He must not try to mold it according to what he believes his readers or editors want to read. His initial task is to come to know his subject intimately, to understand its every aspect, to let it fill his mind. Then at some turning point the subject takes command and the true act of creation begins… The discipline of the writer is to learn to be still and listen to what his subject has to tell him.
If you write what you yourself sincerely think and feel and are interested in, the chances are very high that you will interest other people as well.
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.
One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”
The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race. Wonder and humility are wholesome emotions, and they do not exist side by side with a lust for destruction.
The question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to be called civilized.
The human race is challenged more than ever before to demonstrate our mastery, not over nature but of ourselves.
“An idea is something that won’t work unless you do.” - Thomas A. Edison
“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?’”
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