Monday, September 3, 2012

An instrument in the shape of a woman

     Celebrating math-women with poetry is a project to which I devoted several postings earlier this summer -- see, for example, these June and July entries.  Moreover, I am looking for more such poems to post.  Please contact me (e-mail address is at the bottom of this blog-site) with poems about math-women that you have written or found.
      Mathematician-astronomer Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) appeared in a poem by Siv Cedering on 21 July, 2012 and here she is again, this time celebrated by Adrienne Rich (1929-2012).

Planetarium        by Adrienne Rich

          Thinking of Caroline Herschel (1750—1848)
               astronomer, sister of William; and others.

A woman in the shape of a monster 
a monster in the shape of a woman 
the skies are full of them

a woman      ‘in the snow
among the Clocks and instruments 
or measuring the ground with poles’

in her 98 years to discover 
8 comets

she whom the moon ruled 
like us
levitating into the night sky 
riding the polished lenses

Galaxies of women, there
doing penance for impetuousness 
ribs chilled 
in those spaces    of the mind

An eye,

          ‘virile, precise and absolutely certain’
          from the mad webs of Uranusborg

                                                            encountering the NOVA 

every impulse of light exploding

from the core
as life flies out of us

             Tycho whispering at last
             ‘Let me not seem to have lived in vain’

What we see, we see 
and seeing is changing

the light that shrivels a mountain 
and leaves a man alive

Heartbeat of the pulsar
heart sweating through my body

The radio impulse 
pouring in from Taurus

         I am bombarded yet         I stand

I have been standing all my life in the 
direct path of a battery of signals
the most accurately transmitted most 
untranslatable language in the universe
I am a galactic cloud so deep      so invo-
luted that a light wave could take 15 
years to travel through me       And has 
taken      I am an instrument in the shape 
of a woman trying to translate pulsations 
into images    for the relief of the body 
and the reconstruction of the mind.


I have “Planetarium” in The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New, 1950-1984 (W W Norton, 1984).  It also is available, along with a bio and other poems by Rich, at

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