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Home > Reviews > The Various Sizes Of The World

The Various Sizes Of The World
Written by Orna Gadish   

The Various Sizes Of The World / William Bronk

Review by Orna Gadish 


We all get used to the regular stars in time.
After the start of learning how far they are,
what distances from earth, and even more
what space they keep apart from star to star,
where centuries divide the closest star's faint light
from light beyond, the mind comes back at last
making the sky seem shallow like the earth
where, from the air, we see a city's lights
spread out across the surface crust below
in constellations we read without surprise.

The sky is a similar surface pierced with lights
until, another morning, the sensitive plate
of a telescope has fixed a light so far
we never knew, so huge that a galaxy needs
to hold it. What address ever really finds
us in the endless depths the world acquires?
The earth has mass to hold our own mass down,
and the huge sun holds earth as though
a whirled cord were taut with it. But the mind
responds to the pull of its own gravities

The mind is shifted outward into space
beyond the sun, where the surface sky explodes
softly forever like an endless wind.
Out and back the mind, the slide of the rule.
Where shall we add the logarithm of what
to find the actual product of any hour?
What point can fix the decimal of space
that joins the least remoteness of the earth
by tiny increments to the last star?
No, here's an incongruous world, too large, too far

 

This passionate, philosophical poem (2) discusses the inability of the human mind and its perception to interpret space and time of the surrounding world via the mere perception of the mind and the senses. Despite us, human-beings, being so successful in mastering the sciences (especially Astronomy, and Mathematics the writer alludes to) –  e.g., mentioning the telescope in:

"The sensitive plate of a telescope has fixed a light so far...."

 -- we are, in fact, confused and bewildered at the end, by the greatness and the obscurity of our universe.

The poem contrasts beautifully the advancement of our technology and the sciences, humans have achieved -- (in order to conceive the surrounding, and put a rule in the mess):

"Out and back the mind, the slide of the rule.
Where shall we add the logarithm of what
to find the actual product of any hour?"

 --with the emptiness remained, after we actually tried to transform this abstract knowledge into the reality of our personal lives. Bronk's conclusion is that full grasp of our universe is impossible, so long as humans cannot even think of their own order, in their own personal lives:

 "logarithm of what to find the actual product of any hour?"

I find the poem analytical and logical, in the way it confronts the idea of human knowledge on earth; and yet emotional, in the way it presents the human failure, in frustration, to conceive it.

Humans are born without knowing exactly what they are doing in this world, and they will probably die in the same status, notwithstanding all of their endeavors in the sciences (and in the arts – Arts - as Bronk's poetry) and all their knowledge. It is unfortunate, but very sincere and true.

The poem has an analytical structure. The first verse talks about the stars, our knowledge of them – space ("how far they are") and time issues (the speed of light is mentioned in: "centuries divide the closest star's faint light.") Then comes a transition to the perception of all of these by the human mind: 

"from light beyond, the mind comes back at last
making the sky seem shallow like the earth
where, from the air, we see a city's lights"

When humans confront space and time issues by their own tools (their knowledgein the science and the like) their perception is shallow like the earth (they live in,) and more specifically, like the city (they belong to.) This perspective is amazing, due to Bronk's ability to go into specifics here (i.e., diminishing  scope,) unlike the telescope that enlarges scope.

Hence, the human perception of the universe is shallow, after all. This is Bronk's conclusion. They perceives the nature through their constellations (like of the stars, but here also, referring to paradigms or ideas humans holds - in order to understand abstract conceptions.) Humans read without surprise, because the universe it is too complicated and too magnificent, and so they are virtually incapable of figuring it out to the end:

"in constellations read without surprise"

The second verse focuses on science and technology (e.g., mentioning the telescope,) as a human endeavor to perceive the world. The advancement is immense, Bronk contends:

"until, another morning, the sensitive plate
of a telescope has fixed a light so far
we never knew, so huge.."

However, at the end, that is degraded (e.g., "own gravity"), because the mind cannot cope with it:

"But the mind responds to the pull of its own gravities."

 The last verse discusses the inability of the mind to fully perceive its surrounding, and presents Bronk's conclusion. Bronk refers to the sciences again, this time to the mathematics:

 "Where shall we add the logarithm of what
to find the actual product of any hour?
What point can fix the decimal of space
that joins the least remoteness of the earth
by tiny increments to the last star?"

Bronk's conclusion is that the human mind is hopelessly bare and helpless, after all, despite all of the understandings and achievements—in the knowledge of the sciences, the technology, and in the ability to discuss it in the arts (i.e., his own philosophy, for instance) of thousands of years of effort.

“No, here's an incongruous (inharmonious, inconsistent) world, too large, too far.”

As Mark Rudman commented on Bronks Poems in Toward reading the of the Poetry of Williamn Bronk (2): "Each poem addresses itself to a central question of existence, not only why we are here but where we are…" Apparently, the question of existence has arisen, but Bronk is skeptical of our mind’s ability to (fully) comprehend it….

 

Works Cited:

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Bronk

(2) http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/bronk/poetry.htm

(3) http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/feature.html?id=177750

 


You are welcome to cite this review, following the MLA standard:

Gadish, Orna. "The Various Sizes of the World By William Bronk - A Review".   Ornapeppermint.com 1 Feb. 2008. Web. 1 Jan. 2009.




 
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