Thursday, May 17, 2012

Natural numbers

     My just-previous posting tells of a Monday poetry reading I was able to attend.  On Monday, May 14, a poetry reading took place that I wanted to attend but missed; poet Gary Snyder read at the Folger Shakespeare Library
     Written in the 1950s and read by him here on YouTube, Gary Snyder's poem, "Hay for the Horses," involves a mathematical calculation: 

     Hay for the Horses      by Gary Snyder

     He had driven half the night
     From far down San Joaquin
     Through Mariposa, up the
     Dangerous Mountain roads,
     And pulled in at eight a.m.
     With his big truckload of hay
                  behind the barn.
     With winch and ropes and hooks
     We stacked the bales up clean
     To splintery redwood rafters
     High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
     Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
     Itch of haydust in the
                  sweaty shirt and shoes.
     At lunchtime under Black oak
     Out in the hot corral,
     ---The old mare nosing lunchpails,
     Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds---
     "I'm sixty-eight" he said,
     "I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
     I thought, that day I started,
     I sure would hate to do this all my life.
     And dammit, that's just what
     I've gone and done."

The poet who writes sonnets knows without counting whether a line of verse contains exactly five iambs.  Likewise the person who works regularly with numbers knows without calculating that 68 is 4 times 17.  Familiar numbers become part of the feel of things, known so well they seem natural or innate.

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