Saturday, October 6, 2012

Geometry . . . a way of seeing

Today's poem is not only a fine work of art, it is also -- for me-- a doorway to memory.   I first heard it in the poet's voice when he visited Bloomsburg University in the late 1980s,  and I was alerted to the reading and to James Galvin's work by my most dear friend, BU Professor of English Ervene Gulley (1943-2008).   Ervene had been a mathematics major as an undergraduate but moved on from abstract algebra to Shakespeare.  Her compassion, her broad-seeing view, and her fierce logic served her well in the study and teaching of literature.  And in friendship.  I miss her daily.  She, like Galvin, questioned life and probed its geometry.

      Geometry Is the Mind of God     by James Galvin
     A point is that which has no part.
     A line is a breadthless length.
     A man in his life is a point on a line:
     That which has no part on a breadthless length.
     The far horizon is a line made of vanishing points,
     Near collision of funnelling views,
     Flat as a corpse’s EKG.
     The line to my back
     Is a heart attack of granite and ice,
     A tumble of similar opposites.
     The opposite of a mountain
     Is the ocean or the sky
     Or an island in the ocean
     Or an island in the sky
     Or a thorn on the island, growing.
     And what regards the reeling firmament
     With sympathy?
     If the ocean has an island,
     If the point has no part,
     I’d say it’s a green thorn in the heart.

     Galvin's title is a quotation from Johannes Kepler.  Its first two lines are from Euclid's Elements.   The poem appeared in Elements (1988) and more recently in Resurrection Update: Collected Poems 1975-1997 (Copper Canyon, 1997).  It also appears in Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics (A K Peters, 2008), edited by Sarah Glaz and me.
     Geometry that's been on my mind recently, as the angles of sunlight descend toward winter, has included the varied and interesting structures and sculptures within of our capital city of Washington, DC.  Some samples have been beautifully captured by Ivars Peterson of the Mathematical Association of America in Field Guide to Math on the National Mall.  Enjoy.                   

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