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The Key of GreenPassion and Perception in Renaissance Culture$
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Bruce R. Smith

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780226763781

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: February 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226763811.001.0001

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Light at 500–510 Nanometers and the Seventeenth-Century Crisis of Consciousness

Light at 500–510 Nanometers and the Seventeenth-Century Crisis of Consciousness

(p.11) Chapter One Light at 500–510 Nanometers and the Seventeenth-Century Crisis of Consciousness
The Key of Green

Bruce R. Smith

University of Chicago Press

One hesitates to disturb Andrew Marvell in his 400 years of solitude, but stanza six of “The Garden” takes place in a “mean while” that you and I still occupy, a time in between the Fall (reenacted in stanza five) and death (anticipated in stanza seven). Ordinarily we think of green as a quality that objects possess. If we stop and recall our last physics course, we may consider that it is not objects that are green but light rays. Modern physics knows green as particles of energy moving at 186,000 miles per second (in a vacuum—air slows them down) in waves of a certain length. The particles of energy are called photons; the length of the waves in which they move is measured in units of one billionth of a meter, or nanometers. What people in many cultures call green occurs in waves measuring between 500 and 510 nanometers. What, then, is a green thought? “Green thought” is ambient thought: it happens in the course of movement through space and time. And it happens, not in black and white, but in color. Marvell enacts in “The Garden” a mode of perception that we may now be in a better position to appreciate than at any time since the 1650s.

Keywords:   green, Andrew Marvell, The Garden, time, space, light, photons, perception

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