My God, It's Full of Stars

The daughter of one of the engineers who worked on the creation and launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, Tracy K. Smith's poem is a touching tribute to her father's work—but it's the analog artwork by Brazilian animation director Daniel Bruson that truly elevates this short film

an artistic rendering of deep space as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope, with swirling clusters of purple, blue and white stars on a black background

Back in February, long-running blog The Marginalian (formerly known as Brain Pickings) announced a series of commissioned animations called The Animated Universe in Verse. An annual celebration of art, poetry, science and philosophy, The Universe in Verse had been uprooted by the pandemic. Rather than take the straightforward approach of filming a few readings as an online placeholder, Marginalian author Maria Popova decided to do something more ambitious, collaborating with a roster of musicians and animators to bring the series to life.

The Animated Universe in Verse recruited some musical heavy hitters, including David Byrne, Patti Smith, and Yo-Yo Ma, but now that the series is available in its entirety, the short that struck us the most was Daniel Bruson's animation of Tracy K. Smith's poem, "My God, It's Full of Stars". A former poet laureate of the United States, Smith is the daughter of one of the engineers who worked on the creation and launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, and her poem is a tribute to her father and his work. It's a touching piece, but it's the lush analog artwork by Brazilian animation director Daniel Bruson that truly elevates it within the Universe in Verse series.

As Popova explains in the blog entry that accompanies the film, Bruson brought a multilayered understanding of the poem to his visualization. His interpretation captures the various planes of reflection involved in the poem, leading to the film's use of optics as a recurring visual metaphor:

"The Hubble tries to see or make sense of the Universe, the father tries to understand the Hubble, the daughter tries to make sense of the father, the decade, the world, and the poet tries to put this whole into perspective. All these efforts have to face problems of scale or distortion: something too big or small, too close or too distant, too dark or too familiar. Not to mention the original problem with the Hubble mirror."

To see and to be seen, to understand and to be understood, are two of the most powerful of our basic desires, but to see clearly is a near impossible task. We insert our own flaws and imperfections into our view of the world, unavoidably, by virtue of being human. Bruson and Smith capture that frustration, but also the beauty of those moments where everything comes into focus.

MY GOD, IT'S FULL OF STARS

dir: Daniel Bruson

syn: Created for a story about Henrietta Leavitt, Edwin Hubble, and our human hunger to know the universe.

About the series: themarginalian.org/the-universe-in-verse

A project by Maria Popova (themarginalian.org) with On Being (onbeing.org)

poem + reading by Tracy K. Smith
art + animation by Daniel Bruson
music by Gautam Srikishan
with creative direction by Erin Colasacco

2022