Archive for Poetry

They – by R.S. Thomas

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on March 14, 2019 by telescoper

The new explorers don’t go
anywhere and what they discover
we can’t see. But they change our lives.

They interpret absence
as presence, measuring it by the movement
of its neighbours. Their world is

an immense place: deep down is as distant
as far out, but is arrived at
in no time. These are the new

linguists, exchanging acrosss closed
borders the currency of their symbols.
Have I been too long on my knees

worrying over the obscurity
of a message? These have their way, too,
other than a prayer of breaking that abstruse code.

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)


To Like and to Like not

Posted in Biographical, Poetry with tags , , , on March 8, 2019 by telescoper

Travelling today, I was reminded that exactly a week ago, WordPress sent me this notification:

I was a bit surprised, to be honest, as that I posted a St David’s Day poem and usually when I post poetry the traffic goes down. Last Friday however it seems all my St David’s Day poetry posts going back years attracted traffic (and ‘likes’), so I was quite pleased.

Some time ago a senior astronomer emailed me to say that he thought that, for a science blog, there was far to much other stuff for his liking. Other stuff presumably including poetry, music, sport and the rest.

Anyway my response was that this isn’t really a science blog. It’s just a personal blog written by someone who happens to be a scientist. I post about science fairly often but I wouldn’t enjoy blogging half as much if I only covered that.

Some people have asked me why I post poetry and music and the rest. The answer is simple: to share things I enjoy. If just one person were to discover a poem they like by reading it here then it makes it all worthwhile!

A Poem for St David’s Day

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on March 1, 2019 by telescoper

It’s St David’s Day today, and a lovely spring morning it is, so I wish you all a big

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!


Gratuitous Picture of some Daffodils near the Maynooth University Library.

It has become a bit of a St David’s Day tradition on this this blog to post a piece of verse by the great Welsh poet R.S. Thomas. An Anglican clergyman, Thomas was vicar at St Hywyn’s Church (which was built 1137) in Aberdaron at the western tip of the Llŷn Peninsula. In this, one of his most famous poems, he speaks eloquently and movingly of the frustrations of his calling.

I was vicar of large things
in a small parish. Small-minded
I will not say, there were depths
in some of them I shrank back
from, wells that the word “God”
fell into and died away,
and for all I know is still
falling. Who goes for water
to such must prepare for a long
wait. Their eyes looked at me
and were the remains of flowers
on an old grave. I was there,
I felt, to blow on ashes
that were too long cold. Often,
when I thought they were about
to unbar to me, the draught
out of their empty places
came whistling so that I wrapped
myself in the heavier clothing
of my calling, speaking of light and love
in the thickening shadows of their kitchens

The Arrival of the Bee Box

Posted in Literature with tags , , , on January 9, 2019 by telescoper

I ordered this, clean wood box
Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift.
I would say it was the coffin of a midget
Or a square baby
Were there not such a din in it.

The box is locked, it is dangerous.
I have to live with it overnight
And I can’t keep away from it.
There are no windows, so I can’t see what is in there.
There is only a little grid, no exit.

I put my eye to the grid.
It is dark, dark,
With the swarmy feeling of African hands
Minute and shrunk for export,
Black on black, angrily clambering.

How can I let them out?
It is the noise that appalls me most of all,
The unintelligible syllables.
It is like a Roman mob,
Small, taken one by one, but my god, together!

I lay my ear to furious Latin.
I am not a Caesar.
I have simply ordered a box of maniacs.
They can be sent back.
They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner.

I wonder how hungry they are.
I wonder if they would forget me
If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree.
There is the laburnum, its blond colonnades,
And the petticoats of the cherry.

They might ignore me immediately
In my moon suit and funeral veil.
I am no source of honey
So why should they turn on me?
Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free.

The box is only temporary.

by Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)


Fourier, Hamilton and Ptolemy

Posted in History, Poetry, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , on December 17, 2018 by telescoper

As we stagger into the last week of term I find myself with just two lectures to give in my second-year module on Vector Calculus and Fourier Series. I didn’t want to present the two topics mentioned in the title as disconnected, so I linked them in a lecture in which I used the divergence theorem of vector calculus to derive the heat equation, the solution of which led Joseph Fourier to devise his series in Mémoire sur la propagation de la chaleur dans les corps solides (1807), a truly remarkable work for its time that inspired so many subsequent developments.

Fourier’s work was so influential and widely admired that it inspired a famous Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton to write the following poem:

Hamilton-for Fourier

The serious thing that strikes me is not the quality of the verse, but how many scientists of the 19th Century, Hamilton included, saw their scientific interrogation of Nature as a manifestation of the human condition just as the romantic poets saw their artistic contemplation and how many poets of the time were also interested in science.

Anyway I was looking for nice demonstrations of Fourier series to help my class get to grips with them when I remembered this little video recommended to me some time ago by esteemed Professor George Ellis. It’s a nice illustration of the principles of Fourier series, by which any periodic function can be decomposed into a series of sine and cosine functions.

This reminds me of a point I’ve made a few times in popular talks about Astronomy. It’s a common view that Kepler’s laws of planetary motion according to which which the planets move in elliptical motion around the Sun, is a completely different formulation from the previous Ptolemaic system which involved epicycles and deferents and which is generally held to have been much more complicated.

The video demonstrates however that epicycles and deferents can be viewed as the elements used in the construction of a Fourier series. Since elliptical orbits are periodic, it is perfectly valid to present them in the form a Fourier series. Therefore, in a sense, there’s nothing so very wrong with epicycles. I admit, however, that a closed-form expression for such an orbit is considerably more compact and elegant than a Fourier representation, and also encapsulates a deeper level of physical understanding.

Winter Garden, by Patrick Kavanagh

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on December 11, 2018 by telescoper

No flowers are here
No middle-class vanities –
Only the decapitated shanks
Of cabbages
And prostrate
On a miserable ridge

by Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967)


Arms and the Boy, by Wilfred Owen (who died on 4th November 1918)

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on November 4, 2018 by telescoper

Wilfred Owen, probably the greatest poet of the First World War, died precisely 100 years ago today, on 4th November 1918, aged 25, just one week before the Armistice that brought the war to an end. I am posting this poem in his memory.

Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman’s flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.

Lend him to stroke these blind, blunt bullet-leads,
Which long to nuzzle in the hearts of lads,
Or give him cartridges of fine zinc teeth
Sharp with the sharpness of grief and death.

For his teeth seem for laughing round an apple.
There lurk no claws behind his fingers supple;
And God will grow no talons at his heels,
Nor antlers through the thickness of his curls.

by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918).

Wilfred Owen, probably the greatest poet of the First World War, died precisely 100 years ago today, on 4th November 1918, just one week before the Armistice that brought the war to an end. I