Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Waking -- to mathematics, to poetry

Bridges-Math-Arts-Conferences --   Places to make connections!
Yesterday I posted a bit of information about POETRY at the 2018 Bridges Conference.
At the 2017 conference in Waterloo, Canada -- via a dramatic presentation -- I met Peter Taylor 
and some of his math-poetry ideas are featured below.

     One of my high school literature texts included "My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke (1908-1963) and I remember it particularly because its author was alive and its subject matter relevant to the experiences of those of us in rural Pennsylvania who were assigned to read it.  Not all of Roethke's poems are favorites -- one that I have wrestled with is "The Waking" -- which I recently found in a lecture entitled "Mathematics and Poetry," -- prepared and delivered by Professor Peter Taylor of Queens University (and available here).  In that lecture, Taylor's remarks range widely.  For example, he considers the equation
24 = 42
and suggests it as a poem.
     Both mathematics and poetry challenge us with difficult ideas -- and Taylor wonders if we might see more similarity between the two if we did not place higher economic value on mathematics.
     Roethke's poem, "The Waking," is a villanelle -- a poem of 19 lines with two lines repeated four times, each time in a new context -- and this structure helps create the vivid feeling of waking to new knowing.  Taylor challenges us:  as teachers, as students -- of mathematics, of poetry -- we need to be WAKING.  Roethke's poem explores the complexity of that process.   

       The Waking       by Theodore Roethke

       I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
       I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
       I learn by going where I have to go.

       We think by feeling. What is there to know?
       I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
       I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

       Of those so close beside me, which are you?
       God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
       And learn by going where I have to go.

       Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
       The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
       I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

       Great Nature has another thing to do
       To you and me; so take the lively air,
       And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

       This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
       What falls away is always. And is near.
       I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
       I learn by going where I have to go.

From The Collected Poems of  Theodore Roethke (Anchor Books, 1975).

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