Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

Banquet speech

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1983

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The award of a Nobel Prize carries with it so much distinction and the number of competing areas and discoveries are so many, that it must of necessity have a sobering effect on an individual who receives the Prize. For who will not be sobered by the realization that among the past Laureates there are some who have achieved a measure of insight into Nature that is far beyond the attainment of most? But I am grateful for the award since it is possible that it may provide a measure of encouragement to those, who like myself, have been motivated in their scientific pursuits, principally, for achieving personal perspectives, while wandering, mostly, in the lonely byways of Science. When I say personal perspectives, I have in mind the players in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves:

There is a square; there is an oblong. The players take the square and place it upon the oblong. They place it very accurately; they make a perfect dwelling-place. Very little is left outside. The structure is now visible; what is inchoate is here stated; we are not so various or so mean; we have made oblongs and stood them upon squares. This is our triumph; this is our consolation.

May I be allowed to quote some further lines from a writer of a very different kind. They are from Gitanjali, a poem by Rabindranath Tagore who was honoured on this same date exactly seventy years ago. I learnt the poem when I was a boy of twelve some sixty and more years ago; and the following lines have remained with me ever since:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
into that haven of freedom, Let me awake.

May I, on behalf of my wife and myself, express our immense gratitude to the Nobel Foundation for this noble reception in this noble city.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1983, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1984

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1983


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