excerpted from tom's journal: topic: Poem

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2000-12-23:18:51

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Poem
The site move has gone incredibly smoothly, thanks to Caro's work. I've done almost nothing but make encouraging noises now and then.
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2000-10-27:15:09

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This topic started out as a place to put poems, but since my dear Caro has added a box where I could do that separately, I'll put comments on the poem here. Today's is called "Balance Beam" which I wrote while watching one of my children practicing walking on a balance beam at gymnastics a few days ago.

This is one of the most important roles of poetry in my life -- it's the literature of small things, of moments, which are no less profound and important for being brief and transient.
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2000-12-05:22:20

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Self-discovery can hurt a lot. It's like getting something caught in the gears of an engine. The sound of its pain is a measure of the engine's power. A weak engine just stalls. A powerful one will kick and buck and scream, but keep running until it's digested the obstruction.
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2000-10-31:14:53

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Christianity has created a horror of the dead -- presumably because most of the dead are languishing in hell, so if they appear to us they're likely to be bringing pretty unhappy tidings. This horror isn't shared by all other cultures. The modern trend in Halloween is toward a healthier view of life and death. The dead still walk -- at least in our minds -- but we needn't fear them any more.
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2000-11-05:17:12

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Sometimes my life seems like a grand minimization problem, subject to all the difficulties of finite precision, numerical instability and false minima. But I know a solution is out there--that the surface is convex and eventually will get close enough to a quadratic form that I can jump to it in a single step. In the meantime, I surf joyfully along the real axis, riding the wave of time.
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2001-03-02:07:26

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Driving in this morning the sky was a dull, low gray and snow was flaking down on the car. The Wolfe Island ferry was barely vissible as it breasted the ice, and the whole world seemed dreary and dead. I understood in that moment in a new way how much of a rebirth spring must have seemed to people who lived closer to nature than we do. For spring is nearly here--even now the sky is clearer and the newfallen snow is smoking off the roof I can see from my office window. It really must have seemed like a miracle to people that every year the dead world was brought alive again, just in time for Easter.
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2001_05_06:10: Ode to Churchill

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next in thread: caro2001_05_06:11:26
The flower in the picture is Caro's hybrid fuschia that she has named Winston Churchill, something that, as a great admirer of Churchill, just cracks me up.

"Tyrian hue" means "purple", the color of royalty. In ancient Greece and Rome it came from Tyre, and was made from some kind of mollusk. In Imperial Rome only the emperor was allowed to wear purple--it was considered treason for anyone else to do so, and punishable by death.

Now, some people like purple, but in circumstances like those the only people who dared to do it had to like purple a lot, with an almost psychotic passion, and even they only dared to it in private. And the meaning of wearing purple was distorted. It no longer just meant, "I like purple." It meant, "Purple means power, and I love power so much that I'm willing to risk my life to emulate the most powerful person in the world."

Wearing purple became a fetish.
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2000-12-18:19:35

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Putting part of a person in your mouth is a pretty intimate act, and a name is one of the most deeply personal parts of a person. Names have the power to touch us deeply--they are used and abused with great ease, and they deserve more attention and care than they often get.

Most kids get teased a lot about their names at one time or another, and those of us who got teased about everything more got teased about our names more. This can cause us to disown our names, to walk around uncertain of how to label ourselves. This seems like a minor thing, yet naming, as I argue elsewhere on this page, is an act if identification, and to not have a name is to not have an idenitity in an important sense, in the same way not having a word for a concept demotes the concept to secondary importance. Demoting yourself to secondary importance is not good.

Caro loves my name. It is remarkably easy to repossess my name from the demons of the past in the light of that knowledge.
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2000-11-09:16:13

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Dear patient Caro has been trying to get me to think (or at least to argue!) more linearly for about a year. She recently pointed out that my argument in "Physics" was getting all diffuse again. So today I disciplined myself to break the entry up into the equivalent of index cards, as per her advice, and the bits of the argument that I've been struggling with fell seamlessly into place.
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2000-11-07:16:19

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Sonnets are generally too metrically strong for my current taste, although I still play around with them. I showed this one to Caro and she said she was in suspense while reading it, thinking I was going to kill the little critters off! Would I do a thing like that?
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2000-12-23:18:56

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The site move has gone incredibly smoothly, thanks to Caro's work. I've done almost nothing but make encouraging noises now and then.
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2000-12-03:19:08

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This poem is full of references to Eliot's "The Waste Land" and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", who is the "he" who has nothing to show me, because I've seen all the things he names. The mermaid I've heard singing is Caro, and she has sung to me on occasion, very beautifully, however unreachably distant and far away.
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2000-11-20:18:01

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I'm hesitating right now over a lot of things, not sure what I should do next. This poem was a way of capturing one aspect of that, as well as being a concrete description of crossing over the Charles toward MIT on Sunday morning, walking in the sunlight.
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2000-11-03:11:49

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Sometimes I feel like I'm groping around in the dark, but if I just keep wandering around disturbing things, I always find a glimmer of light somewhere.
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2000-11-17:14:52

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Tennyson's "Ulysses" is one of my favorite poems, and expresses one of the constants in my life: the desire to know, "to seek, to strive, to find, and not to yield." I have felt this, and it's kept me going, even when I have been made weak by lots of things. But as I've grown wiser what I'm seeking has changed, or at least expanded. Now, today, I'm seeking experience: joy and laughter and fun and pleasure as much as knowledge and learning.

Carolyn has taught me how important that is.
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2000-11-10:16:53

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Had lunch with a friend today who managed to convince me that she'd done dumber things in her youth than I did in mine. Laughter is a great solvent of tragedy.
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2000-10-23:12:19

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Poem
There is no fate
No tide that moves our lives
Nor any harbour safe
Secure from all the storms
All surprises
Where effortless at anchor we may rest

We sail the widest seas
Run before the gale
Fret in stale sargasso's grip
Or whirl in maelstrom's hurricane of water
Sucked beneath the surface
Where monsters lurk

We may keep station with a close companion
With whom we share this world
Other times we sail alone
Or in keeping with a fleet
Yet always voyaging on
Without harbour, without cease
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2000-10-28:22:13

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People like to criticize, and they assume their own superior knowledge. Thus, because I once dared use the phrase "rosey fingered dawn" in a poem, I was told, by someone who assumed I didn't know it, that that phrase "belonged rather famously to Homer." I was thinking about it today because of the experience described in Creatures, and also because something similar happened to me yesterday.

But its the kind of response an artist dreads, like the critic who panned Catch 22 because of the "randomness" of the chapters, when Heller worked so hard to get the look and feel of randomness with an ordering that was very carefully and deliberately chosen. Some people just don't get the joke, and as soon as anyone starts taking those people seriously they stop doing good work -- this is as true in physics as it is in poetry or any other art.

You can't write for your critics, only your Muse.
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2000-10-19:19:23

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Poem
Tonight I could see the galaxy
Shining dim against the city lights
Reflected from the sky
Echoeing the glorious sight
I could sometimes see long ago
In the dark of the moon
In the deeps of the hills
By the edge of the sea
Where my youth was spent
Expended, lost
Beneath the diamond sky
Where tonight in a single breath
I found it again
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2000-12-23:18:53

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The site move has gone incredibly smoothly, thanks to Caro's work. I've done almost nothing but make encouraging noises now and then.
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2000-12-04:17:59

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I have no clue who the author of "The Hippopotomus Song" is. I've seen it sung in a documentary about a couple of English performers whose names I can't recall--a pianist and a singer who's in a wheelchair--from the 1930's or thereabouts.
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2000-10-22:17:22

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Poem
A jay flies by laconiclly
Falling sideways on the breeze
While a mist of cedar waxwings
Flash yellow in the sun
Echoing the linden leaves
Now yellowing with fall
That hummed two months ago
With the roar of bees
Getting unexpected pollen
So late in summer