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Location: California

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Grandfather Shank

Lee Byron Shank (1883-1956) was my grandfather. He worked his life as a steam locomotive fireman, a factory worker and a farmer. With no formal education, he followed his curiosity to study mythology and astronomy, and he left us with manuscripts and paper scraps of his musings that demonstrated, too, his whimsy and wit.

This is one of his poems.

Poetic Astronomy

How very often we hear someone say
"I like to travel, don't you?
But I never seem able to get away
There's so much I have to do."
Surprising t'would be for them to know
What gad-abouts they really are,
Riding upon this earth they go
A-whirling about our star.
Our star is the Sun, so big and so warm
Round it we have many motions.
To and fro – like a bee in a swarm –
So confusing to one's waking notions.
The sun, himself, a-traveling goes
Toward the Herculean group,
And with him all the planets he tows
Like a well-behaved family troupe.
Twelve miles every second he makes
On this journey so endless, seeming,
And with him all his systems he takes,
His radiance ever beaming.
And round the Sun our Earth goes yearly
On a path that's closely reckoned,
And in this motion, and this one, merely,
We go eighteen miles a second.
On her axis Earth whirls around once every day.
If the equator’s your home the whiles,
You're riding on this spinning way
Each hour a thousand miles.
The universe we live on, it appears,
Rotates on its axis, too,
About two-hundred millions of years it takes
Before one turn is through.
And all the stars in this mighty throng,
Some thirty billion or more,
With the Universe obediently goes along
In a motion precise and sure.
And in this motion the speed of the Earth,
It has been duly reckoned,
Owing to the size of this mighty girth,
A hundred miles a second.
Adding these speeds all up we decide
Our travel seems to tower.
One hundred thirty miles each second we ride
Plus a thousand miles an hour.
What more travel could one possibly do?
Or how could he faster go?
This constant trip should satisfy you.
It sure does me, I know.
            Lee Byron Shank, c. 1945