Wednesday, September 3, 2014

a poem by Robert Lowell

Wallowing in this bloody sty,
I cast for fish that pleased my eye
(Truly Jehovah's bow suspends
No pots of gold to weight its ends);
Only the blood-mouthed rainbow trout
Rose to my bait. They flopped about
My canvas creel until the moth
Corrupted its unstable cloth.

A calendar to tell the day;
A handkerchief to wave away
The gnats; a couch unstuffed with storm
Pouching a bottle in one arm;
A whiskey bottle full of worms;
And bedroom slacks: are these fit terms
To mete the worm whose molten rage
Boils in the belly of old age?

Once fishing was a rabbit's foot--
O wind blow cold, O wind blow hot,
Let suns stay in or suns step out:
Life danced a jig on the sperm-whale's spout--
The fisher's fluent and obscene
Catches kept his conscience clean.
Children, the raging memory drools
Over the glory of past pools.

Now the hot river, ebbing, hauls
Its bloody waters into holes;
A grain of sand inside my shoe
Mimics the moon that might undo
Man and Creation too; remorse,
Stinking, has puddled up its source;
Here tantrums thrash to a whale's rage.
This is the pot-hole of old age.

Is there no way to cast my hook
Out of this dynamited brook?
The Fisher's sons must cast about
When shallow waters peter out.
I will catch Christ with a greased worm,
And when the Prince of Darkness stalks
My bloodstream to its Stygian term . . .
On water the Man-Fisher walks. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Crisis In Physics

As those of you who have studied the history of science from, approximately, Copernicus, Galileo and Newton, to Einstein, Heisenberg, Planck, Dirac, Bohr, Feinman (the list could go on and on), probably know, Relativity and Quantum mechanics don't work well together; it would, perhaps, not be going too far to say that they are incompatible. Along comes String Theory (about which I know very little), which claims that both theories are a logical consequence of this larger and more inclusive theory. Unfortunately, the equations of String Theory are very difficult (if not impossible ) to solve and (what is even worse) they produce no verifiable predictions.

This is not a tragic tale (does it remind you just a little of that ancient myth, The Tower of Babel?) What ever made us think that it might be possible to think up a Grand Unified Theory of Everything?
The failure of that dream doesn't mean that there won't be plenty of work for our scientists to do—superconductivity at normal temperatures, for example. (Which may be impossible, but we don't know that yet.)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Socrates, Muhammad And The Koran

I’ve been trying to read the Koran, without much success. That is to say, I can read it ok but it is not the sort of book that rewards close attention. It’s boringly repetitive, and has no logical or narrative structure—you can see why those who study it have to memorize it because only those who have the whole thing in their heads can find their way around in it—hence the power of the Mullahs. There is one message that comes through very clearly and very often: if one is not a believer, Satan will get you and you will roast in hell for ever. (But Allah is all wise and all merciful.)

So the Koran is a barbaric book—in the ancient Greek sense of that word—to those of us at least who don’t understand classical Arabic; for those who do, reading the Koran must be first of all an esthetic experience—Mohammed must have been a great poet, which means that the believers—at  least those who understand classical Arabic—are responding not so much to what he says but to the beauty of his language. . . . For them, Socrates’ deep and enduring question, “How should one live?” has been settled.  Muslims and ultra-orthodox Jews would seem to have a lot in common.