I came across this paragraph while reading Into the Cool by Sagan and Schneider and I was intrigued by a reference to Joseph Brodsky’s poetry but I can’t seem to understand what it means exactly:

The time since the Big Bang is an estimated 15 billion years. Life as a whole is roughly a third as old. We are closer, as Joseph Brodsky wrote, with poetic license, to the Big Bang than to Rome. If we consider our origins in natural transformations, in the cycling of matter in regions of energy flow, no poetic license is needed to see the truth of this statement

What does the reference to Brodsky’s poem mean in this context? I.e. what do Sagan and Schneider mean by referring to his saying?

  • I assume you're asking about what Brodsky quote this is referring to, rather than about the direct meaning of the quoted text from Sagan & Schneider?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 24, 2020 at 13:58
  • @Rand al’Thor no I’m asking about the specific paragraph that I quoted from Sagan & Schneider. I guess a better to ask this is: what does the meaning of Brodsky’s poem/song mean in this context? i.e what do Sagan and Schneider mean by referring to his saying? Jan 24, 2020 at 21:41
  • In that case, I'm sorry for editing your title to say something other than what you meant to ask. The perils of an ambiguous question ...
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 24, 2020 at 21:56

1 Answer 1


The thing (I'm not sure whether it should be called a poem or a song) is called:
"Anti-Shenandoah: Two Skits and a Chorus".

The final part reads:

III. Chorus
Here they are, for all to see,
the fruits of complacency.
Beware of love, of A.D., B.C.,
and the travel agency.

A train may move fast, but time is slow.
History's closer
to the Big Bang than to Roman Law,
and you are the loser.

So, our advice to you is, Stay put
if you can help it.
Always be ready to say Kaput,
but wear a helmet.


The full text can be found here (the discussion is in Russian, though).


As the question has been edited since I've typed my answer, the answer makes little sense now.
I haven't read the book, so I went and read the annotation and a review to get the rough idea.

The quoted paragraph can be found in the Preface of the book but this appears to be of little help. I believe the Physics.SE might actually be a better place for this question.

However, if I were to hazard a guess on what the authors mean I'd be thinking of something along the following lines.

We (meaning the humankind here and now) are very far from (the Ancient) Rome in terms of our current beliefs, social life, politics, science, technology, you name it.

And yet we, as a part of the material world, are built up from the same matter that once came into existence as a result of the Big Bang (if the theory is true, that is) and then just kept transforming for billions of years. So, in this sense, we are fairly close to the Big Bang.

PS. I'd be much more interested to know what exactly Brodsky meant by his lines:

History's closer
to the Big Bang than to Roman Law,
and you are the loser.

I'm not sure Sagan and Schneider understood this but neither can I :)

  • Right I found this but I still couldn’t understand what Sagan and Schneider meant when they mentioned Brodsky. Could you perhaps elaborate? Jan 24, 2020 at 21:42

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