Sunday, April 3, 2011

April -- month of poetry and mathematics

April is both National Poetry Month and Mathematics Awareness Month  (with theme this year being "Unraveling Complex Systems").  Today's poem by physicist Richard Feynmann (1918-1988) celebrates both poetry and complexity; from the Epilogue of  Feynman's book, What do you care what other people think?, we have these lines: 

     There are the rushing waves
     mountains of molecules
     each stupidly minding its own business
     trillions apart
     yet forming white surf in unison.
     Ages on ages
     before any eyes could see
     year after year
     thunderously pounding the shore as now.
     For whom, for what?
     On a dead planet
     with no life to entertain.
     Never at rest
     tortured by energy
     wasted prodigiously by the sun
     poured into space.
     A mite makes the sea roar.

     Deep in the sea
     all molecules repeat
     the patterns of one another
     till complex new ones are formed.
     They make others like themselves
     and a new dance starts.

     Growing in size and complexity
     living things
     masses of atoms
     DNA, protein
     dancing a pattern ever more intricate.
     Out of the cradle
     onto dry land
     here it is
     atoms with consciousness;
     matter with curiosity.
     Stands at the sea,
     wonders at wondering: I
     a universe of atoms
     an atom in the universe.

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