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When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

~Walt Whitman

I first encountered this poem in high school English, and I come across it again every few years. I can't explain entirely the rage it summons in me.

But maybe this is the point I wish to make. A friend mentioned the Randall-Sundrum model of the universe and I went to that wikipedia page to try to learn what that was. Pretty soon I was desperately linkhopping- I have a basic education in relativity and differential geometry, but pretty basic, and even the vocabulary I did learn at some point, it's been a decade since and I needed to refresh my memory.

So I clicked on anti-de-Sitter space and from there to Lorentzian manifold and from there to Riemannian manifold, and I want to point out something about these four articles.

The article on Randall-Sumdrum model begins "In physics" The article on Anti-de-Sitter Space begins "In mathematics and physics." The articles on Lorentzian Manifold and Riemannian Manifold begin "In differential geometry." There's that tricksy slippage between physics and mathematics Whitman is writing about. Are the learn'd astronomer's "proofs, the figures," his "charts and diagrams" a meaningful and interesting representation of the actual stars, or are they just lifeless mathematical models that lack the "mystical" potency of observing the stars with the naked untrained eye? Aside from answering this question, though, the distinction is, I think, actually important to doing physics. Because if you theorize that spacetime takes a certain shape that can be modeled by a particular manifold, and then your measurements in an experiment don't match the manifold, you have to consider two different possibilities: One, that spacetime doesn't match your theorized model, and two, that your measurements were inaccurate. But if you're a mathematician working with a manifold and it doesn't match your expectations, only your math is wrong.

So this distinction Whitman writes on matters. There are the mathematical models of the stars, and there are the actual stars themselves, and if you forget this you end up confusing the manifold with the spacetime. A physicist needs both to do their work.

Nonetheless, I feel a great rage when I read Whitman's poem, a rage at the idea that the untrained eye bestows a more exciting and therefore truer reality than the subtle delver into the measureable mysteries of the cosmos can attain through experimentation and analysis. This may be dogmatic scientism on my part, but if so, let it be!
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Relevant to my past post on The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, here's Zach Braff reading part of the poem as if it really were a love song:
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A Sestina for January 20, 2017. (395 words) by Lanna Michaels
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Original Work, United States Politics
Rating: Not Rated
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Additional Tags: More Joy Day, Sestina, Politics, Jewish Themes, It occurs to me that I am America

A sestina for More Joy Day. (note: not actually joyous.)

Sometimes people write poetry for me
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Do you believe that "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is a love song?
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To commemorate Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, I will share again my favorite Holocaust-related poem.

To Be a Jew in the Twentieth Century

by Muriel Rukeyser

To be a Jew in the twentieth century
Is to be offered a gift. If you refuse,
Wishing to be invisible, you choose
Death of the spirit, the stone insanity.
Accepting, take full life. Full agonies:
Your evening deep in labyrinthine blood
Of those who resist, fail, and resist: and God
Reduced to a hostage among hostages.

The gift is torment. Not alone the still
Torture, isolation; or torture of the flesh.
That may come also. But the accepting wish,
The whole and fertile spirit as guarantee
For every human freedom, suffering to be free,
Daring to live for the impossible.

I like it, among other reasons, because it is not *about* the Holocaust so much as it's about the fact that the Holocaust demands a response. And it's at least a two part response. Of course, the response requires us to speak up against other genocides and try to prevent the Holocaust from happening again, to take an event that happened in the past and is unerasable and use it as inspiration to erase possible futures. But the other part of the response is to live lives of purpose and meaning that repudiate the antisemites' mission of hatred and repression. Though Rukeyser frames it as the Jews' gift, it is also the gift/choice for the whole world, to live as free people, free-thinking people, who fully enjoy the world that they are blessed to live in. To fully enjoy even the suffering, the 'full agonies.'.

Today is the fourteenth day of the Omer
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Ferret's ranking of the most difficult constrained poetic forms

1)Sonnet. Okay, it's actually pretty easy to write a bad sonnet, but there are no crutches when you're writing a sonnet. The poem's lyricism needs to stand on its own, you can't rely on cheap rhythmic trickery to make the poem more entertaining. I've probably written a dozen sonnets, and nary a good one.

2)Paradelle. It's excruciating to compose, and nigh impossible to edit. Any change affects multiple places in the poem, and the original composition has to anticipate future use in multiple places. I'm not sure it's actually possible to write a good one, which on the one hand affirms its difficulty, but on the other hand makes it easier to deal with than the sonnet, where you know it's possible to write a good one because you've read Shakespeare and Milton. You read a bad paradelle, you just say, well, it was a paradelle, of course it sucked.

3)Sestina. It's possible to write a good sestina, it's just really hard to juggle. Everything hinges on picking the right word bank. You have to balance interesting words and simple words, words with multiple meanings with words whose single meaning can be reused and repurposed. If you can figure out the right word bank, the sestina falls into place.

4)Pantoum. Is not so hard to write, but is tricky as anything to edit. Any edit requires you to read it forwards and backwards at the same time to make sure you haven't broken something.

4)Villanelle. Like a sonnet, but the repetitions mean that the lyricism of each individual line doesn't need to be as delicate. If you do it right, the rhythm carries the poem.

5)Haiku. Super easy to do badly, moderately easy to do moderately well.

6)Double Dactyl. The hard part's finding the single word double dactyl. For the rest, just be goofy and you're fine.

7)Clerihew. Actually, I'm not sure I've ever written a clerihew, but it seems easy.

8)Limerick. Super easy. Super boring.

Today is the fifth day of the Omer
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A couple years ago, a friend agreed to try to write a paradelle with me. The paradelle is an extremely complicated verse structure invented by Billy Collins- it's a parody of a villanelle.

Collin's description of the paradelle form: It is a poem of four six-line stanzas in which the first and second lines, as well as the third and fourth lines of the first three stanzas, must be identical. The fifth and sixth lines, which traditionally resolve these stanzas, must use all the words from the preceding lines and only those words. Similarly, the final stanza must use every word from all the preceding stanzas and only these words.

Needless to say, the last stanza is destined to be virtually incoherent and terrible. I offered this friend that I would write the first three stanzas if she would write the final stanza. Two years later, she still hasn't done so, so I thought I'd invite other people to finish my paradelle. It's about physics, because I'm a nerd who writes bad physics poetry.

An Incomplete Astrophysics Paradelle

Of astrophysicists peering deep into the cosmos.
Of astrophysicists peering deep into the cosmos.
Through spectacles, mirrors, and confocal lenses.
Through spectacles, mirrors, and confocal lenses.
Confocal cosmos, peering through mirrors,
And deep into the lenses of astrophysicist's spectacles

To find the connective matter for space-time
To find the connective matter for space-time
Is to be the dreamers whose vision is truth.
Is to be the dreamers whose vision is truth.
The vision whose connective truth is space
Matter for the dreamers-to-be to find time

Because in space nobody can hear you weeping
Because in space no one can hear you weeping
It seems like no one is there at all
It seems like no one is there at all
Hear all at one. No, it seems there is you because
Nobody in weeping can like space

If you're interested, we can negotiate on some of this if you need help maneuvering certain words. There are effects I really like- "confocal cosmos' is great, and I like transforming "to be the dreamers" into "the dreamers-to-be". But there are things that can bear improvement. I feel like I'm close but not quite there on the spectacle/spectacles pun. And weeping is semantically the right word, but it doesn't have quite the word-feel for what I want. But I would like to say that I have co-written a paradelle, so please, help me finish!
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To mark Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut, the beautifully dualistic commemoration of those lost to defend Israel and the joyous bounty we have reaped because of their sacrifice, I would like to share three quotes that I've carried with me over the years- three perspectives on Israel and the Jewish nation composed by two non-Jews and an English Jew in the century before the establishment of Israel. They all prompt the same response in me, a strong sense of awe that the situation that drew out these perspectives was so rapidly replaced with the reality of Eretz Yisrael. It is astonishing from our perspective today just how unlikely the State of Israel was even to people living less than a century ago.

"But ah! what once has been shall be no more!
The groaning earth in travail and in pain
Brings forth its races, but does not restore,
And the dead nations never rise again."

Henry Longfellow "The Jewish Cemetery at Newport", 1854

"No, not like that. A barren land, bare waste. Vulcanic lake, the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth. No wind would lift those waves, grey metal, poisonous foggy waters. Brimstone they called it raining down: the cities of the plain: Sodom, Gomorrah, Edom. All dead names. A dead sea in a dead land, grey and old. Old now. It bore the oldest, the first race. A bent hag crossed from Cassidy's clutching a noggin bottle by the neck. The oldest people. Wandered far away over all the earth, captivity to captivity, multiplying, dying, being born everywhere. It lay there now. Now it could bear no more. Dead: an old woman's: the grey sunken cunt of the world."

James Joyce Ulysses, 1921

"An explanation of certain defects of Jewish life is often sought in the generalization that the Jews of the middle ages were what the middle agesl made them. in truth the effect of external pressure was negative rather than positive. The Jews suffered more from the dispiriting calms of life within the ghetto than from the passionate storms of death that raged without it. The anti-social crusade of the medieval Church against the Jews did more than slay its thousands. It deprived the Jews of the very conditions necessary for the full development of their genius. The Jewish nature does not produce its rarest fruits in a Jewish environment. I am far from asserting that Judaism is a force so feeble that its children sink into decay so soon as they are robbed of the influence of forces foreign to itself. But it was ancient Alexandria that produced Philo, medieval Spain Maimonides, modern Amsterdam Spinoza. The ghetto had its freaks, but the men just named were not born in ghettos. And how should it be otherwise?... The defects of the Jewish character prove this as well as its virtues. Most of its defects are the result either of isolation, or of reaction after isolation."

Israel Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, 1896
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I kicked off the [community profile] in_the_beginning Bible fanworks fest this year with Miriam's Pantoum, the pantoum about Miriam's life that I mentioned a while back.

Much thanks go to [ profile] thefieldsbeyond, [ profile] freeradical42, and [personal profile] tealdeer for their help with the poem. Editing a pantoum is a really tricky, braintwisty juggling act, because any time you change a line you need to make sure it works both forward and backward. I really appreciate their help with it.

I consider this poem to tie in canonically with my other Miriam, Aaron, and Moses stories of the past year. The principal link here is to an insight in "Two Princes": Miriam is a Princess of the Tribe of Levi and Moses is an outsider trained to be a Prince of Egypt, so that the dueling songs at the Sea of Reeds should be read at least partially as a power struggle about who will lead the people. But on the other hand, Miriam is the one who saved Moses as a child, setting in motion the events of the Exodus. He's her brother and she can't help but love him and feel a deep attachment to him though she barely knows him.

I love the pantoum form for this, even though I sort of stumbled into it. This was originally a ficlet until I realized the rhythms I was falling into were pantoumish. But the flow of the poem, the way it moves back and forth like waves but keeps moving forward, is perfect for Miriam.
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I started writing a Miriam ficlet, but when I was about 2/3 through I realized that the rhythms I'd stumbled on were very pantoum-like. So I started converting it into a pantoum.

It's... it's better than my last pantoum, "This Is A Pantoum". But then, I wasn't really trying, just feeling out the form. This time, I'm trying to say something, so better than "This Is A Pantoum" is not really the relevant standard of quality.

I'd appreciate it if someone would look it over, help me smooth out some awkward lines, let me know if I've betrayed Miriam.


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