Ella Frears


Elegy for the Cassini Spacecraft

1997 – 2017


Today, like every day this month, I was thinking about your death. Or rather, your end. I was trying to imagine the moment when the pressure becomes too great or the heat too hot.

And then at about four o’clock in the afternoon I heard awful screaming. Sound carries strangely in our cul-de-sac and I couldn’t work out if it was happening in the distance or just under my window.

Part of the horror is the not knowing what’s making the sound. That’s why in good films, the bad thing is only glimpsed or not seen at all. I stood in my doorway trying to work it out: a dog was barking, a man was shouting, a woman was screaming.

And then I heard a body being struck with an object. I knew it was a body and not a thing by the odd way the other sounds bent around it. The traffic, the screaming, the trees and the wind all seemed to be warped by this blunt, irregular thumping. I ran towards it.

Behind a low fence, a man was beating a dog with a shovel. There were neighbours in windows and on the street, watching. There was the distant sound of sirens and the man stopped and went inside.

The dog was silent, looking blankly at the sky. We gathered round the fence. It was breathing, and then it wasn’t.

Cassini, today, as you dived between Saturn’s rings gathering data, I saw a dog die — a detached but very real sadness. A weary, inner ‘ohh’ , like a small balloon deflating.

The other dogs in the cul-de-sac wouldn’t stop barking until morning. They knew. I doubt it will be the same for you. I can’t imagine crows rising suddenly from the trees, or an old woman on her way home inhaling sharply: it’s gone!

Last night my dreams were full of that sound— shovel against dog. One billion kilometres is just too far for me to feel the violence of your loss, I’m sorry. I’ll imagine the moons instead, peeking over Saturn’s rings like silent neighbours watching helplessly as you begin to tremble, burn and break apart.



Sermon (for the burial of Cassini)


Noble Macrocosm; Bespangled Infinity; Great Current illuminating absence with ice. By the force of your data you stilled the chaos of the methane seas, you made the early waters of the flood boil-off and cloud-over and you composed the tempest over the hexagon of Saturn. As we commit these earthly scraps of our sister, Cassini, to the deepest-deep, grant her retirement and a quick and heavy fire so that she may not taint fledgling life with her fuel. May she cease communication and reside indefinitely as a part of Saturn’s complex clouds. Little gatherer of science, indifferent photographer of the dark sublime; we aspire to remember her until that day when all who swallow the air will be embossed with the bald heat of death, which was promised in the future of our sun. We open our mouths in light of what we know, in faith of the evidential and the theoretical, as close to truth as we can muster, for our wonderstruck hearts watching our sweet machine go; Cassini, goodbye.


Ella Frears is a poet and visual artist based in London. She’s had poems in the LRBPoetry London, Ambit, and The Rialto among others and was a finalist for the Arts Foundation Fellowship in Poetry. She’s completed residencies for the National Trust, Tate Britain, K6 Gallery and Royal Holloway University. Her poems about the St Ives Modernists are currently on show at Tate St.Ives. Ella’s poem ‘Fucking in Cornwall’ was commended in this year’s National Poetry Competition.

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