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Category Archives: Poetry
Hearing about what broke the Falcon 1 rocket made me think of a poem I once heard, a poem by James Clerk Maxwell — yes, he of the Maxwell Equations. Called “The Song of the Atlantic Telegraph Company,” it was written to honour a transatlantic telegraph cable, or rather the failure of said cable to work. Maxwell’s friend William Thomson was an engineering consultant to Atlantic Telegraph, and when Maxwell heard that the cable-layers had failed to follow Thomson’s advice and thereby snapped their cable, he was inspired to versify.
(When the next attempt to lay a cable worked, Thomson became Lord Kelvin, and his name lives on in the Kelvin scale, which measures temperatures in units the size of Celsius degrees but starting at absolute zero.)
“List to the new words to a common song,” Maxwell wrote to a friend, “which I conceived on the railway to Glasgow. As I have only a bizzing, loose, interruption-to-talking- &-deathblow-to-general-conversation-memory of the orthodox version, I don’t know if the metre is correct; but it is some such rambling metre anyhow, and contains some insignificant though apparently treasonable remarks in a perfect thicket of vain repetitions.” For the sake of efficiency, Maxwell introduced the notation “2(u)” for the refrain, “Under the sea, under the sea.”
THE SONG OF THE ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH COMPANY
Mark how the telegraph motions to me,
Signals are coming along,
With a wag, wag, wag;
The telegraph needle is vibrating free,
And every vibration is telling to me
How they drag, drag, drag,
The telegraph cable along,
Dammit, people, stop giving me opportunities to post poetry.
On my soul a deep infection preyed,
A burden cold of contradiction laid
Upon my heart so fickle and so weak,
That from my path I almost strayed
And in a flamewar nearly took a part!
Never can I end what others choose to start,
So learned I did the proper time to speak
And when to silent case my verbal dart,
For when the bloggers act like drama queens,
And trick like idols dying to be seen,
No matter what the course I seek
I only worse the dismal scene!
But perhaps I can not-quite-waste my time
If I turn to slapdash meter and obtrusive rhyme. . . .
(Originally posted at the Cuttlefish’s place.)
I hereby establish a new tradition: when too much of the Internet (or the parts thereof which I follow regularly) seems to have switched into Whiny Drama Queen mode, I will post a poem. I wrote the first octet of this one while trapped in a particularly dreadful meeting, and I finished it during a recent flirtation with insomnia.
BOY SEEKS RAZORGIRL: CYBERPUNK LOVE
She slows her heart while on a sniper run
And fires between the beats for steady aim;
She kills with art and grace and flechette gun,
With wire and shuriken mere doll or dame
Could never wield with such finality —
Her curves machined so men will trembling faint
False pleasure yield and sketch carnality
By siren sheen and most alluring paint.
My ghost was trapped within her cunning maze
When first we crossed upon the seething Net
Where console cowboys jack their country ways
And flatline burns the ICE as black as jet.
Her Jarvik I now set my cap to win,
For she who stands alone let all begin.
National Poetry Month is almost over — and we’ve survived! To honor the occasion, here is Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the U. S. and A.
Smokey the Bear heads
into the autumn woods
with a red can of gasoline
and a box of wooden matches.
His ranger’s hat is cocked
at a disturbing angle.
His brown fur gleams
under the high sun
as his paws, the size
of catcher’s mitts,
crackle into the distance.
He is sick of dispensing
warnings to the careless,
the half-wit camper,
the dumbbell hiker.
He is going to show them
how a professional does it.
At the most recent Boston meeting of Skeptics in the Pub, after Mike the Mad Biologist had given his talk, the conversation split up into different corners of the room. Over at my end, I recall, we were having a chill discussion about cartoons and the strange people one can find beside Los Angeles freeways, while across the way, the far side of the Asgard’s backroom developed into a fierce argument over something-or-other. When we chanced to look in their direction, our impression was that our fellow skeptics had staged an impromptu performance of Richard III. The fellow sitting in the throne-like chair surveying the debate with interest and cool decision no doubt added to the effect.
Whenever you get a bunch of science enthusiasts together in a bar, they start talking Shakespeare. It’s happened twice already, so it must be a rule. And it was with this rule on my mind that I happened to search the Internet today, looking for something else and finding this video instead. Now, we no longer need to imagine what Peter Sellers would sound like doing Laurence Olivier doing Richard III doing “A Hard Day’s Night.”
Now, we know.
What with the current events burning up the headlines these days, I figured it was high time for an old classic.
I’ve got a little animation of a cell,
When in haste, copy paste, yes indeed that was the plan, though —
Copyright infringement lawsuit noose is tightening on me —
Sternbergâ€™s ethics, (theyâ€™re a shocker)
How â€˜bout Crocker, (off her rocker)
And what to say of Guillermo? Guillermo-oh-oh-oh
Iâ€™m without tenure, and nobody loves me —
Heâ€™s just a headcase, embarrassing his faculty —
Spare us the whines of this mediocrity —
Please I pray — on my soul, Will you make it so —
Guillermo! No—, we will not make it so — make it so —
Guillermo! No—, we will not make it so — make it so —
Guillermo! we will not make it so — make it so
Will not make it so — make it so
Will not make it so — make it so
That Eugenie, sheâ€™s a meanie, but thereâ€™s much worse godless foe!
Beelzebub sent Dick Dawkins and his friend, PeeeeZeeee — PeeeeZeeee, PeeeeZeeeeeeee!
Only the rarest of authors can demolish the “Two Cultures” divide within a single phrase, conjoining a scientific education with the “classical” like two strands of DNA (or like Baucis and Philemon, take your pick). One such author is The Digital Cuttlefish.
When reinventing history
Itâ€™s best to keep the mystery;
If witnesses are noticed, it is best to take them out.
And although the act is telling,
Youâ€™d be better off expelling
Doctor Myers, if you see him, just because the manâ€™s a lout.
You see, PZ is a witness
To the movieâ€™s lack of fitnessâ€”
He is one selection pressure that would render it extinct.
So, with â€œWANTED!â€ posters printed,
To the cinema they sprinted,
And they passed around the mugshots just as soon as they were inked.
The policemen, at the ready,
Kept the ticket-takers steady
While they watched with eyes like eagles for the devil in disguise.
Yes! They spotted Dr. Myers,
Looking just like in their fliers!
The policemen, quite correctly, gave the doctor a surprise.
When they said heâ€™d be arrested
If their actions he protested,
He complied at once (that should have raised suspicions, donâ€™t you think?)
Once his actions had been thwarted
And he left the line, escorted,
Looking back to his companion in the line, he gave a winkâ€¦.
So this little movie trip is
Like a Trojan Eohippus
That delivered Richard Dawkins deep within the fortress walls
I canâ€™t wait to read the story
Of the battle and the gloryâ€”
Cos the trailer to this feature shows the heroâ€™s got some balls!
It’s a good thing we’ve got the Cuttlefish, because a world which has gone this mad deserves a poet.
I’m taking off for a few days — got to finish writing some other things, and all — so here’s a poem.
“DULCE ET DECORUM EST,” BY WILFRED OWEN
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.
By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Lady, make a note of this —
One of you is lying.
— Dorothy Parker