Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer records in poetry the life and times of one of America’s best-known scientists, the father of the atomic bomb who later lobbied for containment of nuclear weaponry. In brief, elegant stanzas, Kelly Cherry examines Oppenheimer’s inspirations, dreams, and values, visiting the events, places, and people that inspired him or led him to despair. She finds his place among scientists of his own time, such as Alan Turing and Albert Einstein, as well as his connections with historical and mythological figures from John Donne to Persephone.
“Of course he had blood on his hands. Who did not?” says Cherry, in “The Nature of War.” Again and again in the course of this remarkable poem, Cherry’s narration of Oppenheimer’s life compels her readers to contemplate the vagaries of science, guilt, and our responsibilities to each other.
Kelly Cherry is the author of over twenty-five books of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, ten chapbooks, and translations of two classical plays. She is Eudora Welty Professor Emerita of English and Evjue-Bascom Professor Emerita in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She and her husband live in Virginia.
Praise for Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer
“As a poetic biography, Kelly Cherry’s Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer is a stunning tribute to one of America’s most significant scientists. As Cherry traces the life of Oppenheimer, she compels us to consider not only our condition as human beings but our responsibility to each other and our world. Cherry’s work is a remarkable achievement.”—The Journal