Sunday, June 30, 2013

Miroslav Holub -- "what use is it?"

     In earlier postings I have expressed my admiration for the Czech poet Miroslav Holub (1923-1998)  -- a research scientist who also wrote fine poetry.  In a biographical sketch of Holub at, the poet is quoted as saying, " . . . I'm afraid that, if I had all the time in the world to write my poems, I would write nothing at all."   There is no agreed standard for the amount of time  to spend on a creative work.  Many poets devote their full time to their craft;  others fear over-writing and strictly limit their writing and editing.  In each aspect of our lives it is possible to do too much or too little thinking about things.  And so it goes.
      My post on 5 April 2013 linked to several math-related Holub poems.  And here is another; in "Magnetism," Holub focuses on the sometimes-silly, sometimes-practical, sometimes-too-limiting question often put to mathematics or science, "what use is it?"

Magnetism     by Miroslav Holub

When the Queen, over the
magnetic lines of force
on Faraday's rough table, asked
And what use is it?
Faraday replied,
gazing lower than her 
lace collar:

And what use Ma'am, is a child?

It was a high point of science
in history, because

modern mankind is divided into those
who understand gravitation and those
who understand braces,

we either ask about everything,
or we ask about nothing,
in which case the universe originated
in the Square of the Republic
through the condensation of
Saint Nicholas's deoderant.

I interpret "braces" -- at the end of the fourth stanza -- as a synonym for "suspenders."  This poem is found in my bookshelf copy of Supposed to Fly:   A Sequence from Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, translated by Ewald Osers (Bloodaxe Books, 1996).  More work by Holub may be found here

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