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first prize, The Mirehouse Poetry Competition, 2009


The brightest star

     Henrietta Swan Leavitt, 1868 – 1921


Is it because she can hear nothing that she strains her eyes

to see the farthest stars? Her ears blur sound

but her eyes look through the thirteen lenses

layered inside this telescope she’s invented;

her eyes see all the known stars of the universe

and she’s the one who starts recording them.


Her mind – the brightest one in Harvard, so they say –

works out a way of knowing how far away

a star is from the earth: by calculating brightness,

she can measure distance. Because of this,

they start to map out space: to calibrate

how big the Milky Way is, how old the universe.


She finds new stars – novae that suddenly

shine bright, then fade away. Cancer eclipses her.

By the time they think of her for the Nobel, she’s dead.

Instead they name a crater on the moon for her.

The maps of galaxies go on and on expanding.

She’s watching from a soundless place, light years ahead.


Elizabeth Burns


last update:

Elizabeth Burns photo

e-mail Elizabeth

Elizabeth Burns website

poetry favourites:
Scottish Poetry Library
Flax Books

and in the shop ...
collections -
"The Lantern Bearers",
Shoestring Press;


"The Gift of Light",

pamphlets -
"The Shortest Days",
"The Time of Gold",
"The Alteration"
"The Blue Flower...",
Galdragon Press

"The book of Hopes and Dreams", bluechrome;

"Images of Women",
Second Light /
Arrowhead Press


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