Sunday, July 27, 2014

Each equation is a playful catch . . .

A mathematician is probably too close to her subject matter to speak playfully about it -- and thus she, even more than others, appreciates a phrase like "each equation is a playful catch, like bees into a jar," offered by Lisa Rosenberg in the poem below.  In "Introduction to Methods of Mathematical Physics," Rosenberg uses a child's anxiety about insects as a way to describe fear of mathematics and offers a smidgen of respect for "those few" who are fearless. 

Introduction to Methods of Mathematical Physics    by Lisa Rosenberg

You must develop a feeling for these symbols
that crawl across a page, for the text overrun

with scorpions.  Like those books about insects
you read as a child, scared to touch the magnified photos,

this too will taunt you.  It will become
your daily fare and meditation, your bedtime

reading, morning prayer.  Soon a single Greek letter
makes your eyes smart.  You find yourself flat

at the back of your skull, searching past daybreak
for the hidden path, the gilded key, a glimpse

of what those few must see at will, those few for whom
each equation is a playful catch, like bees into a jar.

Rosenberg's title is also the name for Physics 104, a course she took while an undergraduate physics major at UC Davis; the poem originally appeared in the April 1997 issue of POETRY and in The POETRY Anthology: 1912-2002Links to additional poems with the word "equation" are found in the posting for July 25, 2014.

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