Poetry and Prosaic Prose

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A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

-Walt Whitman


"Oh WRETCHED race of men, to space confined!
What honour can ye pay to him, whose mind
To that which lies beyond hath penetrated?
The symbols he hath formed shall sound his praise,
And lead him on through unimagined ways
To conquests new, in worlds not yet created.

First, ye Determinants! In ordered row
And massive column ranged, before him go,
To form a phalanx for his safe protection.
Ye powers of the nth roots of - 1!
Around his head in ceaseless* cycles run,
As unembodied spirits of direction.

And you, ye undevelopable scrolls!
Above the host wave your emblazoned rolls,
Ruled for the record of his bright inventions.
Ye cubic surfaces! By threes and nines
Draw round his camp your seven-and-twenty lines-
The seal of Solomon in three dimensions.

March on, symbolic host! With step sublime,
Up to the flaming bounds of Space and Time!
There pause, until by Dickenson depicted,
In two dimensions, we the form may trace
Of him whose soul, too large for vulgar space,
In n dimensions flourished unrestricted."

- James Clerk Maxwell
To the Committee of the Cayley Portrait Fund - 1887


Quotations from
The Rubaiyat

(Translated by E Fitzgerald)

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on : nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door as in I went.

Khayyam, who stitched the tents of science,
Has fallen in grief's furnace and been suddenly burned;
The shears of Fate have cut the tent ropes of his life,
And the broker of Hope has sold him for nothing!'
[His name means a tent maker.]

For in and out, above, about, below,
'Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
Played in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.

Ah, but my Computations, People say,
Have Squared the Year to human Compass, eh?
If so, by striking from the Calendar
Unborn Tomorrow, and dead Yesterday.


The Story of Stone Soup

Once upon a time, somewhere in post-war Eastern Europe, there was a great famine in which people jealously hoarded whatever food they could find, hiding it even from their friends and neighbors. One day a wandering soldier came into a village and began asking questions as if he planned to stay for the night.

"There's not a bite to eat in the whole province," he was told. "Better keep moving on."

"Oh, I have everything I need," he said. "In fact, I was thinking of making some stone soup to share with all of you." He pulled an iron cauldron from his wagon, filled it with water, and built a fire under it. Then, with great ceremony, he drew an ordinary-looking stone from a velvet bag and dropped it into the water.

By now, hearing the rumor of food, most of the villagers had come to the square or watched from their windows. As the soldier sniffed the "broth" and licked his lips in anticipation, hunger began to overcome their skepticism.

"Ahh," the soldier said to himself rather loudly, "I do like a tasty stone soup. Of course, stone soup with cabbage -- that's hard to beat."

Soon a villager approached hesitantly, holding a cabbage he'd retrieved from its hiding place, and added it to the pot. "Capital!" cried the soldier. "You know, I once had stone soup with cabbage and a bit of salt beef as well, and it was fit for a king."

The village butcher managed to find some salt beef . . . and so it went, through potatoes, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and so on, until there was indeed a delicious meal for all. The villagers offered the soldier a great deal of money for the magic stone, but he refused to sell and traveled on the next day. The moral is that by working together, with everyone contributing what they can, a greater good is achieved.


"My soul is an entangled knot,
Upon a liquid vortex wrought
By Intellect in the Unseen residing.
And thine doth like a convict sit,

With marlinspike untwisting it,
Only to find its knottiness abiding;
Since all the tool for its untying
In four-dimensional space are lying."
- James Clerk Maxwell


"Whether this vast homogeneous expanse of isotropic matter [the aether] is fitted not only to be a medium of physical Interaction between distant bodies, and to fulfill other physical functions of which, perhaps we have as yet no conception, but also as the authors of The Unseen Universe seem to suggest, to constitute the material organism of beings excercising functions of life and mind as high or higher than ours are at resent, is a question far transcending the limits of physical speculation ..."

James Clerk Maxwell, "The Aether" (1876)


A mathematician named Klein
Thought the Mobius strip was divine.
He said "If you glue
The edges of two
You can make a strange bottle like mine".