Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Learning from Poetry -- "The Courtesy of the Blind"

      Can difficulty with understanding mathematics be compared with physical blindness -- a difficulty that is biological rather than chosen?  This is a question that has come to my mind as a reaction to Wislawa Szymborska's poem (offered below) "The Courtesy of the Blind."  This Szymborska poem is part of a wonderful online collections of poetry, Poetry 180, a poem for each day of the 180-day public school year.  

Poem 119: The Courtesy of the Blind     by Wislawa Szymborska

Polish poet Wisława Szymborska (1923-2012)
was the 1996 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature
and the author of over 20 volumes of poetry.

     The poet reads his lines to the blind.
     He hadn’t guessed that it would be so hard.
     His voice trembles.
     His hands shake.

     He senses that every sentence
     is put to the test of darkness.
     He must muddle through alone,
     without colors or lights.

     A treacherous endeavor
     for his poems’ stars,
     dawns, rainbows, clouds, their neon lights, their moon,
     for the fish so silvery thus far beneath the water
     and the hawk so high and quiet in the sky.

     He reads—since it’s too late to stop now—
     about the boy in a yellow jacket on a green field,
     red roofs that can be counted in the valley,
     the restless numbers on soccer players’ shirts,
     and the naked stranger standing in a half-shut door.

     He’d like to skip—although it can’t be done—
     all the saints on that cathedral ceiling,
     the parting wave from a train,
     the microscope lens, the ring casting a glow,
     the movie screens, the mirrors, the photo albums.

     But great is the courtesy of the blind,
     great is their forbearance, their largesse.
     They listen, smile, and applaud.

     One of them even comes up
     with a book turned wrongside out
     asking for an unseen autograph.

“The Courtesy of the Blind” from MONOLOGUE OF A DOG: New Poems by Wisława Szymborska, translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.  (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006).  Here is a link to previous postings in this blog that feature Szymborska.

Poetry 180 also includes  the mathy poem "Numbers" by Mary Cornish.

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