An orrery is a great mechanical contraption, a cosmic clockwork of sorts, that demonstrates the movements of the planets relative to each other.

I didn’t want to run a tiny thumbnail image because that would cheat you of seeing the intricate nature of the gears. You can find reproductions of this and other wonderous gizmos (astrolabes, tellurions, a heliochronometer) for sale here. (Why not give ’em a plug – I borrowed their photo.)

Orreries come in a variety of shapes and sizes. A particularly famous one is the Rittenhouse Orrery, which lives at UPenn. 

Orrery also provides the title and the structure of an extraordinary book of poems by Richard Kenney, for which a detail of the Rittenhouse contraption serves as the cover. But the poetry itself touches only briefly on the orrery and mostly portrays memories of a few seasons on an aging cider-milling farm in Vermont. Evidently the book is out of print now, but you can still pick up a used copy via Amazon. A friend who was related in some way to the author gave me a copy. I love it, despite (or because of?) the fact that the vocabulary is WAY over my head. Of the two critics quoted on Kenney’s Wikipedia entry, one hated the book. Fine, for me it’s challenging and evocative.

I’ll just leave you with the shortest vignette in the book, a selection called Married:

Swung door

one o’clock

black suit

shoes clack

on blue stones

where the great stained

window, blazing,

butterflies the floor.


8 thoughts on “Orrery

  1. That thing is absolutely cool, and is absolutely a decoration I’d love for my place. There’s just something about all those gears meshing together that’s hypnotizing.

    Unfortunately, that website pretty much has nothing left to sell (at least no orreries). It would frequently say “We have one of these, so call to place your order.” and halfway down the page it would mention there’s no more left. Oh, well, someone’s got to have something.

    And the Man of Words himself, baffled by poetry with high-level vocabulary? What hope is there for the rest of us?

  2. I appreciate your ability to spell my name correctly. You won’t believe the number of times I’ve seen “Donny” from coworkers (and others), despite the signature at the bottom of every e-mail.

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