Cor Caroli Regis Martyris – behind the scenes

One year ago today, my father-in-law George Buchert, passed away. George was such a great man, and there is so much I could say about him. For today, I’ll stick to sharing with regards to this poem, written at his passing.

George and Ellen 2

George and Ellen

 

George was a few decades ahead of his time. He originally earned degrees in forestry and forest management – but then earned a PhD in tree genetics, focusing on the White Pine. Over a lifetime of work, he demonstrated the essential value of biodiversity. He showed conclusively that logging and forestry practices were erasing that biodiversity. He was truly “up against the system” before biodiversity was appreciated, and before social media might have made rallying support for the cause possible. He ultimately lost his job and his life’s work in a political management turnover – thereby also losing his health insurance, and ultimately his health. He thereafter went years with unmanaged diabetes, suffering with resultant neuropathy, and ultimately needed a kidney transplant. The immune suppressing medication to prevent rejection allowed youthful asbestos exposure to turn into the mesothelioma from which he ultimately died. It’s not an exaggeration to say that George died for his work trying to save the world, even though the events were separated in time. George had observed truths about the natural world for which he had put everything on the line and for which he had fought at great personal cost.

George was a modern Galileo, confronting ignorance about the natural world with science. Thus in this poem, Galileo is quoted: ”E pur si muove!” – words Galileo famously declared about the truth of his scientific observations when facing the forces of a powerful, entrenched system. George was also a Brahe, declaring to the “thick witted” that they were “blind” – failing to see critical truths about the world that were vital to the life of the world.

George was a martyr for a cause, though his death was separated by years from his betrayal. In this poem, the title includes the phrase “Regis Martyris” – martyred king.

He had the soul of an artist, the heart of a mountain man, and the brain of a scientist. He was irreplaceable, and I miss him.

 

This poem was written for him upon his passing, and has very specific pretext and subtext. The pretext is about a star – previously called Cor Caroli Regis Martyris – that has had its name changed, and is no longer visible to the naked eye, though it plainly still exists. I’ll describe the pretext, literally, in a moment. The fact that the star is still there, but no longer visible to the eye, leads to the subtext – the poem is about George and his passing. Though he is no longer visible, I believe his soul lives on – and yet he moves. E pur si muove!

George and Josie

George loved his grandchildren and they loved him

 

Cor Caroli Regis Martyris – Pretext (astronomical) annotation

Cor Caroli Regis Martyris was the name of the star – it means “Heart of Charles, the Martyred King” and probably references Charles the First, executed in the English Civil War. The star was previously visible to the naked eye. Thus, there is reference within the poem to Hipparchus, who described the concept of apparent magnitude, a scale of relative perceptual brightness/size of stars at night.

Per this magnitude scale, there are about 9,000 stars with a magnitude of 6.5 or less (higher numbers are less apparently bright) which would be visible to the naked eye at night in a clear, unpolluted sky – including unpolluted by light. In many cities, stars cannot be seen unless they have a magnitude of 2 or less – sometimes leaving only a handful of visible stars. Cor Caroli has an apparent magnitude of close to 3, rendering it invisible to the naked eye in many of the brighter metropolitan areas. Thus, as noted, this star was previously visible.

The star was renamed Alpha Canum Venaticorum, and is now invisible to me. Increasing air and light pollution cast shadows on the sky. However, with proper instrumentation, the star is still visible.

In the poem, I reference parallax, the concept of the apparent relative motion of an object when viewed from different lines of sight. Parallax helped establish that the earth was not the center of the universe, though it took time for the model to change. Many resisted the implications of stellar parallax, because it would have implied that the stars (thought of as the eighth sphere) were what seemed to them to be an impossible distance away, across an enormous void beyond Saturn, then thought to be part of the seventh sphere of the historically geocentric model.

A few additional details: Venaticorum is a binary star. Venaticorum is part of the constellation Canes Venatici. Stars can also be parts of asterisms (apparent groups of stars smaller than constellations). In China, Venaticorum is considered part of an asterism known as the Imperial Guard, with this star specifically known as the First Star of Imperial Guards.

The last stanza references the two famous astronomers noted elsewhere in this annotation. The “blind watcher of the sky” is from a quote from Tycho Brahe: “O crassa ingenia. O caecos coeli spectators,” (O thick witted, O blind watchers of the sky), his complaint of humanity for not understanding the implications of observed natural phenomena – in this case, what he thought was the appearance of a new star (it was a supernova). E pur si muove!” is, as already mentioned, Galileo’s exclamation: “And yet it moves!” – meaning the earth moved – the universe was not geocentric.

 

Cor Caroli Regis Martyris– Subtext (my father-in-law’s passing) annotation

George Buchert lived with us and was known to us. We loved him, but he has passed away. Though we no longer have the pleasure of his company, his spirit lives on. He is the first of his generation to pass in our family and has led the way for us into the next life, where he waits for us and guards and watches lovingly over us from afar. His family is dear to him and will be eternally – but most dear and most lovingly bound with him forever is his beloved wife, Ellen, who shares an extraordinary relationship with him. Though we cannot see him now, I declare that he does yet move – “E pur si muove!” – his soul maintains its integrity and coherence. He yet exists, beyond the void.

George and Ellen

George and Ellen: “dearer still, companion sure, thy binary
alight with mutual flame in common well”

 

In short…

George was a great man: a grandfather, a father, a husband, a folk singer, a carpenter and builder, a woodsman and true mountain man, a researcher, a shoemaker, a teacher, a man of faith and science, and so much more. He was a second father to me. I loved him.

To George Buchert, PhD, who with courage cross’d the void, first to guard.