Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Satchid Anandan writes

 Had You Been A Poet…

(To late Stephen Hawking)

World just passed by

like a cat, its fur rubbing against you.

It did not expect you to discover

a theory of everything anyway. 

The dark matter remains dark

even after your entry.

This tiny being on this little planet

knows only one secret:

that secrets are secrets -

not that it is no knowledge.

Galaxies have been made not by laws alone,

but by accidents too,

like our own small lives.

Definitions have little scope, then,

whether of Karma or of Brahma.

Our brain is too small, and universes,

huge, infinite, mysterious: enough for

many generations of philosophers. 

Universes would have been, even without us.

They are indifferent to our discoveries.

Had you been a poet, you

would have understood things better:

like Kabir, Allama Prabhu,

or Hafiz. 


  1. Allama Prabhu was a 12th-century poet/mystic who co-founded Vachana [ "(that which is) said"] poetry. he was a temple drummer in modern Shivamogga district, Karnataka state, India. A temple drummer, he started aimlessly wandering after his young wife died. At a cave temple Animisayya ("the open eyed one") transformed him into an enlightened mystic. When he resumed his journeys he composed 1,300 songs that celebrated the union of self and Shiva. Three centuries later another poet/mystic Kabir, the son of an unwed Brahmin woman in Varanasi, via a seedless conception, and delivered through the palm of her hand; she abandoned him in a basket floating in a pond, but he was rescued and raised by a family of Muslim weavers. He became the 1st disciple of another poet/mystic, Ramananda, who taught that Vishnu was inside everyone and everything. Though his poems were not committed to writing until the 17th century they were an important part of the Bhakti movement (derived from “bhaj,” divide, share, partake, participate, belong to) which replaced Vedic ritualism and ascetic lifestyles with individualistic loving relationship with a personally defined god. Sikhism emerged at the same time and may have been influenced by the movement. For instance, their scriptures, the “Guru Granth Sahib,” contain 292 hymns by Kabir as well as poetry by Ramananda. The Persian poet Khwaja Shams-ud-Din Muḥammad Ḥafeẓ-e Shirazi lived in the 14th century. He called himself “Hafez” (safe keeper) to commemorate his youthful memorization of the Qur’an. Much of his output was in ghazals, a lyrical genre that expressed the ecstasy of divine inspiration in the mystical form of love poems. His work was first translated into English in 1771 by William Jones, a judge at Fort William in Bengal who suggested a philological relationship between European and Indian languages (later known as Indo-European). In 1853 Friedrich Engels told Karl Marx that “dissolute old Hafiz” was “rather pleasing to read.” Ralph Waldo Emerson called Hafez “a poet’s poet,” and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes remarked that “there is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge of the world."

  2. At 21 Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and was given only 2 years to live, but over the next 55 years he authored 15 books and numerous scientific papers that changed the way scientists viewed black holes and cosmology in general. In 1985 he lost his ability to speak but adapted a program that allowed him to use a handheld clicker to select words on a computer screen that were then passed through a speech synthesizer; eventually, he had to direct the program through a cheek muscle attached to a sensor. Sarah Howe wrote “Relativity: for Stephen Hawking,” a poem about black holes which Hawking recited for Poetry Day in 2015. When they met to discuss the project Howe noted that it took him 15 minutes to compose a sentence.

    When we wake up brushed by panic in the dark
    our pupils grope for the shape of things we know.

    Photons loosed from slits like greyhounds at the track
    reveal light’s doubleness in their cast shadows

    that stripe a dimmed lab’s wall — particles no more — 
    and with a wave bid all certainties goodbye.

    For what’s sure in a universe that dopplers
    away like a siren’s midnight cry? They say

    a flash seen from on and off a hurtling train
    will explain why time dilates like a perfect

    afternoon; predicts black holes where parallel lines
    will meet, whose stark horizon even starlight,

    bent in its tracks, can’t resist. If we can think
    this far, might not our eyes adjust to the dark?

    Howe explained that relativity “suggests the relationship between two things in a comparison -- the ligature of the word “like,” which chimes through my poem -- whose interplay enables us to think. That the imaginative terrain of poets and physicists might overlap is nowhere clearer than in the thought experiments Einstein devised. Experiments that take place only in the mind, they make use of vivid props drawn from everyday life -- trains, clocks, elevators -- to lead us through the realms of the previously unthinkable. In one, Einstein imagined chasing a beam of light, a flight of imagination that led eventually to special relativity. Still another of his relativity thought experiments involves a moving train and two observers (one onboard, the other on the platform) who see the same flash of light. Einstein combined these ingredients into a paradox only solvable by realizing that time actually moves more slowly for the person on the speeding train. My poem’s two-line stanzas are the train tracks of Einstein’s imagined scene: parallel lines that will impossibly meet in the black-hole singularity his theories predict, where time stops and space ceases to make sense. As objects we can only ever observe indirectly, black holes are a powerful symbol of what we don’t understand about the universe -- terrifying and thrilling. In formal terms, “Relativity” is a sonnet, a form I started to think of as a sort of black hole exerting its own gravitational pull, compressing an everywhere into its little room. Yet my sonnet starts with light not as it exists in the large-scale world of gravity but at the subatomic level of quantum physics. It is the grail of contemporary physicists to make these two irreconcilable theories speak to one another. The first part of “Relativity” recounts the physical experiment that demonstrates that light leads a double life. A light beam is shone through parallel slits: the photons behave like particles when observed passing through the aperture, but by the time they hit the screen opposite they’re acting as waves, interfering to create a striped pattern of dark and bright bands -- just like the stanzas of my poem. The so-called wave-particle duality is the notion that quantum objects behave like waves until you try to locate them, when that behavior disappears.”


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