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“The Bee Box,” Lowell Parker

Found this absolute gem at The Wondering Minstrels, which appears, sadly, to be defunct, but at which I’ve already rediscovered a bunch of old favorites. This is a stunningly original take on a love poem.

In this small box, my love,
 you'll not find a ring,
 but instead, a brave, little bee.
 He'll be dead by morn, having given his life
 defending his flowers against me.
 I felt his sting
 while picking the small, purple pansies
 growing wild along the roadside,
 in hopes of an afternoon bouquet for you.
 And I grieved the sting,
 more for him than me,
 knowing full well the price he paid
 for my small pain.
 And I allowed him his victory,
 leaving his flowers as a memory,
 and brought you instead
 this brave, little bee,
 who proves there is love
 even in the smallest
 of things.
Categories: Poetry

Tidbits of Math in Culture

January 4, 2012 Leave a comment

You learn funny things from the Mathematica Room at the Hall of Science. Silly biographical details (Galois wasn’t the only idiot). The unfolding of various fields writ in miniature (calculus; probability; algebraic topology). That there were three different (related) Bernoullis who were mathematicians (how did I never figure this out?! Well, can’t say I pay much attention to first names, nor do, apparently, the people who put names to theorems in textbooks.) Two that caught my eye today:

(1) Chaucer apparently published a book on alchemy and was a well-known alchemist in his day. I would’ve realized that if I’d gotten around to the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale. See here: “Genre: a nouvelle or short story, infused with alchemical instruction and told in the manner of a thief’s confession rather like the ‘Pardoner’s Prologue.'”

(2) The scientific preoccupations of the Romantic poets are well-documented (see, for example, Richard Holmses’ The Age of Wonder, or consider that Coleridge coined the word “scientist” as a pejorative term at one of the first Royal Society meetings, or consider Wordsworth on Newton). I’m reminded now that I need to circle back to the Metaphysical poets and see more of the land there, particularly what they’re doing with Platonic geometric forms. The ending of Donne’s A Valediction Forbidding Mourning comes to mind:

Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

(This does poor justice to the use of circularity in the poem: lovers set as linked weights pulling each other along, never too far, tension and release woven throughout.) But these lines from Marvell (the beginning of “Upon the Hill and Grove at Billborow”) started off this chain of reminiscences:

See how the arched earth does here

Rise in a perfect hemisphere!

The stiffest compass could not strike

A line more circular and like,

Nor softest pencil draw a brow

So equal as this hill does bow;

It seems as for a model laid,

And that the world by it was made.

I really like the compass/soft pencil apposition. Breezily encompasses (har–sorry) the organic and the geometrical in the landscape of Creation.

But my favorite part of today at the museum was mulling over the Nikon Small World contest winners–showcasing the wonders of light microscopy (plus some polarizers and dyes). Here’s my favorite:

Sand at 4x. Yep. That's right. Sand, motherfuckers.

Categories: Poetry, Popular Science

Arlo Bates’ “A Winter Twilight”

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

I want to get into the daily writing habit and shake off some of the hesitancy to write that’s left 10 (count ’em, 10) posts in the purgatory of drafts. And I’ve decided that I’m never too busy to write. So here it is in the 15 minutes I have before work: some preliminary thoughts on a poem that gripped me, the text of a piece my college choir had commissioned, Arlo Bates’ “A Winter Twilight.” I’ve put the full text at the end for reference (haven’t figured out all these blog formatting things yet–we need LaTeX for blogs!) I won’t do much analysis here. Line-by-line readings have been the death of my poetic understanding before: but here is the substance of a first encounter with the poem, the first-striking things.

First, the sound and rhythm. Notice the shortening syllable count in the first four lines: a relatively wordy introduction (still with surprises, like the gem “beryl”), building up forward momentum with the enjambment. Then two lines that balance each other in their parallel character: both four syllables, with the same pattern of stresses, both reaching toward the spaciousness of a five syllable line with their contraction and elision. And the rhythmic pattern of these lines suggesting airiness and flight. Then a real, solid four syllable line to close the idea, the harder syllables of “dying day” and the increased stresses suggesting some finality, an arrival point.

But then a shift again–a five-line idea, balancing shrouds and lights, a host of qualifiers that can be steps away or towards: the “first fair evening star” is brought forth by that description, as the sense of the dying day recedes by “half.” The first star we see is imbued with human significance: of all the ones out there, it’s special to us, chosen for no particular reason but that we are connected to it by an accident of perception. The “half” here is supreme comfort, not a backing away: this star retains the majesty of the crystalline heavens, but it touches the speaker as a human: and “half human” isn’t a diminishing here, it adds to the greatness of the star. The lines are longer: they need room for amplifying adjectives and the telling of a story, where at first there was only a peek at the scene.

And to close, returning directly to the personal. The act of perception over, and rumination replacing it: calm rhythms, long adjectives, the lessening of pain by its diffusion, rendered with the unstressed syllables now used. When the stresses come back, in the last two lines, it’s to render the hardnesses that are being taken away.

Worth taking a look at the delicate interweaving of rhymes here too, which connect these three different parts of the poem I’ve delineated and circle back and forward in a meaningful way. But that’s more time than I have to spend on this.

PALE beryl sky, with clouds
        Hued like dove’s wing,
        O’ershadowing
        The dying day,
And whose edge half enshrouds         5
  The first fair evening star,
  Most crystalline by far
Of all the stars that night enring,
  Half human in its ray,—
What blessed, soothing sense of calm         10
Comes with this twilight,—sovereign balm
  That takes at last the bitter sting
  Of day’s keen pain away.
Categories: Poetry