Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Can you SEE the monument?

Links to non-intersecting celebrations of April
as National Poetry Month      and      Mathematics Awareness Month
are available here and here.

Recently I revisited my copy of Elizabeth Bishop:  The Compete Poems, 1927-1979 (FSG, 1999) and turned to "The Monument" -- a poem mathematically interesting for its geometry.  Here are the opening lines; the complete text and many other Bishop poems are available online here:

from  The Monument     by Elizabeth Bishop  (1911-1979)

     Now can you see the monument? It is of wood
     built somewhat like a box. No. Built
     like several boxes in descending sizes
     one above the other.
     Each is turned half-way round so that
     its corners point toward the sides
     of the one below and the angles alternate.  

     Then on the topmost cube is set
     a sort of fleur-de-lys of weathered wood,
     long petals of board, pierced with odd holes,
     four-sided, stiff, ecclesiastical.
     From it four thin, warped poles spring out,
     (slanted like fishing-poles or flag-poles)
     and from them jig-saw work hangs down,
     four lines of vaguely whittled ornament
     over the edges of the boxes
     to the ground.
     The monument is one-third set against
     a sea; two-thirds against a sky.
     The view is geared
     (that is, the view's perspective)
     so low there is no "far away,"
     and we are far away within the view.
     A sea of narrow, horizontal boards
     lies out behind our lonely monument,
     its long grains alternating right and left
     like floor-boards--spotted, swarming-still,
     and motionless. A sky runs parallel,
     and it is palings, coarser than the sea's:
     splintery sunlight and long-fibred clouds.
       .  .  .

Carol Frost in an article in Humanities, tells of finding in Bishop's notebooks:

       "... her sketch, in a rather careless hand, of the monument on which her poem “The Monument” is based. Her notes below the drawing
                             This is the beginning of a painting
                             A piece of statuary, or a poem,
                             Or the beginning of a monument.
                             Suddenly it will become something.
                             Suddenly it will become something.
are altered in the poem: 'It is the beginning of a painting / a piece of sculpture, or a poem, or monument, / and all of wood. Watch it closely.' The change, any change in lines for a poem, should come as no surprise, for revision, we know, is at the heart of making art.

About a monument near me in Washington, DC, I have been delighted to learn that the Washington Monument, damaged in a 2011 earthquake, is scheduled to reopen on May 12.

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