Sunday Poem

The Two Apes of Brueghel (1957), Wisława Szymborska (1923-2011)

So appears my big graduation exam dream:
In a window sit two monkeys fixed by chains,
Beyond the window the sky flies
And the sea splashes.

The subject is the history of mankind.
I stammer and flail.

One monkey, gazing at me, ironically listens,
The second seems to doze –
But when after a question comes silence,
It prompts me
By softly clinking the chain.

Translation from the Polish by yours truly.
All I have to say about this poem is that a monkey rattling a chain is never a good thing, especially at a thesis committee update. See the original Brueghel painting here.

Sunday Poem

From the greatest science poem ever written, Lucretius’ The Nature of Things. The first stanza sets up the second, Lucretius’ rationale for doing, if you’ll forgive me the anachronism, science.

Sooner of later, you will seek to break away from me,
Won over by doomsayer-prophets. They can, certainly
Conjure up for you enough of nightmares to capsize
Life’s order, and churn all your fortunes with anxieties.
No wonder. For if men saw that there was an end in sight
To trials and tribulations, they would find the power to fight
Against the superstitions and the threats of priests. But now
They have no power to resist, no way to reason how,
For after death there looms the dread of punishment for the whole
Of eternity, since we don’t know the nature of the soul:
Is the soul born? Or does it enter us at our first breath?
And does it die with us, and is it broken down at death? Continue reading “Sunday Poem”

Sunday Poem

Phosphor Reading By His Own Light

It is difficult to read. The page is dark.
Yet he knows what it is that he expects.

The page is blank or a frame without a glass
Or a glass that is empty when he looks.

The greenness of night lies on the page and goes
Down deeply in the empty glass…

Look, realist, not knowing what you expect.
The green falls on you as you look,

Falls on and makes and gives, even a speech.
And you think that that is what you expect,

That elemental parent, the green night,
Teaching a fusky alphabet.

– Wallace Stevens

Stevens is not easy, but he repays the effort with his remarkable word choice and fierce cognitive engagement. Of particular interest to the scientifically inclined, his poems are often about the intersection between our minds and reality – clearly a theme in this poem. (Maybe this poem is also about you, trying to read this poem.) As he once wrote, “Poetry is a response to the daily necessity of getting the world right.”