The isolation of two milliard light years
The human race, on its little ball,
Sleeps, wakes, and works,
Wishing at times for companionship with Mars.
The Martians, on their little ball –
What they do, I don’t know.
Maybe the sloop, wike, and wook.
But at times they wish for companionship with Earth –
Is the pulling together of the force of isolation.
The universe expands
And so we all unite our wants.
The universe distends
And so we are all uneasy.
The isolation of two milliard light years
Prompts an involuntary sneeze.
– Tanikawa Shuntaro
Hall and Knight
or ‘z + b + x = y + b + z’
When he was young his cousins used to say of Mr Knight
‘This boy will write an algebra – or looks as if he might.’
And sure enough, when Mr Knight had grown to be a man,
He purchased pen and paper and an inkpot, and began.
But he very soon discovered that he couldn’t write at all,
And his heart was filled with yearnings for a certain Mr Hall;
Till, after many years of doubt, he sent his friend a card
‘Have tried to write an Algebra, but find it very hard.’
Now Mr Hall himself had tried to write a book for schools,
But suffered from a handicap, he didn’t know the rules.
So when he heard from Mr Knight and understood his gist,
He answered him by telegram ‘Delighted to assist.’
So Mr Hall and Mr Knight they took a house together,
And they worked away at algebra in any kind of weather,
Determined not to give up until they had evolved
A problem so constructed that it never could be solved.
‘How hard it is’, said Mr Knight, ‘to hide the fact from youth
That x and y are equal it is such an obvious truth!’
‘It is’, said Mr Hall, ‘but if we gave a b to each,
We’d put the problem well beyond our little victims’ reach.
‘Or are you anxious, Mr Knight, lest any boy should see
The utter superfluity of this repeated b.’
‘I scarcely fear it’, he replied, and scratched this grizzled head,
‘But perhaps it would be safer if to b we added z.’
‘A brilliant stroke!’, said Hall, and added z to either side;
Then looked at his accomplice with a flush of happy pride.
And Knight, he winked at Hall (a very pardonable lapse).
And they printed off the Algebra and sold it to the chaps.
– E. V. Rieu
7 April 1852.
Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him –
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me
– Carol Ann Duffy
Crystals Like Blood
I remember how, long ago, I found
Crystals like blood in a broken stone.
I picked up a broken chunk of bed-rock
And turned it this way and that,
It was heavier than one would have expected
From its size. One face was caked
With brown limestone. But the rest
Was a hard greenish-grey quartz-like stone
Faintly dappled with darker shadows,
And in this quartz ran veins and beads
Of bright magenta.
And I remember how later on I saw
How mercury is extracted from cinnebar
—The double ring of iron piledrivers
Like the multiple legs of a fantastically symmetrical spider
Rising and falling with monotonous precision,
Marching round in an endless circle
And pounding up and down with a tireless, thunderous force,
While, beyond, another conveyor drew the crumbled ore
From the bottom and raised it to an opening high
In the side of a gigantic grey-white kiln.
So I remember how mercury is got
When I contrast my living memory of you
And your dear body rotting here in the clay
—And feel once again released in me
The bright torrents of felicity, naturalness, and faith
My treadmill memory draws from you yet.
– Hugh MacDiarmid
There’s antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium,
And hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium,
And nickel, neodymium, neptunium, germanium,
And iron, americium, ruthenium, uranium,
Europium, zirconium, lutetium, vanadium,
And lanthanum and osmium and astatine and radium,
And gold, protactinium and indium and gallium,
And iodine and thorium and thulium and thallium.
There’s yttrium, ytterbium, actinium, rubidium,
And boron, gadolinium, niobium, iridium,
And strontium and silicon and silver and samarium,
And bismuth, bromine, lithium, beryllium, and barium.
There’s holmium and helium and hafnium and erbium,
And phosphorus and francium and fluorine and terbium,
And manganese and mercury, molybdenum, magnesium,
Dysprosium and scandium and cerium and cesium.
And lead, praseodymium, and platinum, plutonium,
Palladium, promethium, potassium, polonium,
And tantalum, technetium, titanium, tellurium,
And cadmium and calcium and chromium and curium.
There’s sulfur, californium, and fermium, berkelium,
And also mendelevium, einsteinium, nobelium,
And argon, krypton, neon, radon, xenon, zinc, and rhodium,
And chlorine, carbon, cobalt, copper, tungsten, tin, and sodium.
These are the only ones of which the news has come to Ha’vard,
And there may be many others, but they haven’t been discavard.
– Tom Lehrer
It’s natural the Boys should whoop it up for
so huge a phallic triumph, an adventure
it would not have occurred to women
to think worth while, made possible only
because we like huddling in gangs and knowing
the exact time: yes, our sex may in fairness
hurrah the deed, although the motives
that primed it were somewhat less than menschlich.
A grand gesture. But what does it period?
What does it osse? We were always adroiter
with objects than lives, and more facile
at courage than kindness: from the moment
the first flint was flaked this landing was merely
a matter of time. But our selves, like Adam’s,
still don’t fit us exactly, modern
only in this – our lack of decorum.
Homer’s heroes were certainly no braver
than our Trio, but more fortunate: Hector
was excused the insult of having
his valor covered by television.
Worth going to see? I can well believe it.
Worth seeing? Mneh! I once rode through a desert
and was not charmed: give me a watered
lively garden, remote from blatherers
about the New, the von Brauns and their ilk, where
on August mornings I can count the morning
glories, where to die has a meaning,
and no engine can shift my perspective.
Unsmudged, thank God, my Moon still queens the Heavens
as She ebbs and fulls, a Presence to glop at,
Her Old Man, made of grit not protein,
still visits my Austrian several
with His old detachment, and the old warnings
still have power to scare me: Hybris comes to
an ugly finish, Irreverence
is a greater oaf than Superstition.
Our apparatniks will continue making
the usual squalid mess called History:
all we can pray for is that artists,
chefs and saints may still appear to blithe it.
– W. H. Auden
I went down by Cascadilla
Falls this evening, the stream below the falls,
and picked up a
kidney-shaped, testicular, and
thought all its motions into it,
the 800 mph earth spin,
the 190-million-mile yearly
displacement around the sun,
of the galaxy with the 30,000
mph of where
the sun’s going:
thought all the interweaving
into myself: dropped
the stone to dead rest:
the stream from other motions
rushing over it:
to the sky and stood still:
not know where I am going
that I can live my life
by this single creek.
– A. R. Ammons
To Madame Curie
Oft have I thrilled at deeds of high emprise,
And yearned to venture into realms unknown,
Thrice blessed she, I deemed, whom God had shown
How to achieve great deeds in woman’s guise.
Yet what discov’ry by expectant eyes
Of foreign shores, could vision half the throne
Full gained by her, whose power fully grown
Exceeds the conquerors of th’uncharted skies
So would I be this woman whom the world
Avows its benefactor; nobler far,
Than Sybil, Joan, Sappho, or Egypt’s queen.
In the alembic forged her shafts and hurled
At pain, diseases, waging a humane war;
Greater than this achievement, none, I ween.
– Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson
Apologies for any formatting issues; the long lines, many broken over several rows, cause certain problems. I have added line numbers in an attempt to make it easier to follow. The poem rhymes in couplets.
from The Blues: A Literary Eclogue
London – Before the Door of a Lecture Room
[Enter Tracy, meeting Inkel.]
Tra: What, won’t you return to the lecture? (40)
Ink: Why, the place is so cramm’d, there’s not room for a spectre.
Besides, our friend Scamp is to-day so absurd—
Tra: How can you know that till you hear him?
Ink: I heard
Quite enough; and, to tell you the truth, my retreat
Was from his vile nonsense, no less than the heat. (45)
Tra: I have had no great loss then?
Ink: Loss! – such a palaver!
I’d inoculate sooner my wife with the slaver
Of a dog when gone rabid, than listen two hours
To the torrent of trash which around him he pours,
Pump’d up with such effort, disgorged with such labour, (50)
That— come – do not make me speak ill of one’s neighbour.
Tra: I make you!
Ink: Yes, you! I said nothing until
You compell’d me, by speaking the truth—
Tra: To speak ill?
Is that your deduction?
Ink: When speaking of Scamp ill,
I certainly follow, not set an example. (55)
The fellow’s a fool, an impostor, a zany.
Tra: And the crowd of to-day shows that one fool makes many.
But we two will be wise.
Ink: Pray, then, let us retire.
Tra: I would, but—
Ink: There must be attraction much higher
Than Scamp, or the Jews’ harp he nicknames his lyre, (60)
To call you to this hotbed.
Tra: I own it – ’tis true –
A fair lady—
Ink: A spinster?
Tra: Miss Lilac!
Ink: The Blue!
Tra: The angel!
Ink: The devil! why, man,
Pray get out of this hobble as fast as you can.
You wed with Miss Lilac! ‘twould be your perdition: (65)
She’s a poet, a chymist, a mathematician.
Tra: I say she’s an angel!
Ink: Say rather an angle.
If you and she marry, you’ll certainly wrangle.
I say she’s a Blue, man, as blue as the ether.
Tra: And is that any cause for not coming together? (70)
Ink: Humph! I can’t say I know any happy alliance
Which has lately sprung up from a wedlock with science.
She’s so learned in all things, and fond of concerning
Herself in all matters connected with learning,
Ink: I perhaps may as well hold my tongue; (75)
But there’s five hundred people can tell you you’re wrong.
– Lord Byron
Go on a starlit night,
stand on your head,
leave your feet dangling
outwards into space,
and let the starry
firmament you tread
be, for the moment,
your elected base.
Feel Earth’s colossal weight
of ice and granite,
of molten magma,
water, iron, and lead;
and briefly hold
this strangely solid planet
your strangely solid head.
– Piet Hein