An Engineer's Literary Notebook

Exploring the real and surreal connections between poetry and engineering

Archive for September, 2009

Of Negative Capacitance And Nightingale

Posted by xbanguyen on September 20, 2009

Literature Blogs
The trinity of passive circuit elements have descriptive names: resistor,  inductor, and capacitor -- the resistor resists current flow, the inductor stores energy in a magnetic field and uses this energy to induce current, the capacitor is capable of holding electrical charge.  The capability of a capacitor, or its capacitance, is the amount of electric charge it is capable of storing.  As a passive element, a capacitor is charged by the voltage applied.   A less well-known fact is that not all capacitors are passive.  In fact, the capacitor used in an operational amplifier configured as a negative impedance converter in an astable multivibrator has negative capacitance and functions as a source, not a passive load.

Negative capability is also a quality that characterizes John Keats whose Ode to the Nightingale has provided much uneasy pleasure to generations of poetry readers, myself included.


O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:


Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!

Keats wrote these lines one spring morning sitting under a plum tree in a friend's garden in England as he listened to a nightingale singing its deathless song.  The poem confirms the poet's negative capability, the ability to negate one's self to enter the state of being of others to speak of and for them.  He left his "sole self" to travel with the nightingale through time -- the poem invokes summer, not spring - and space - sunny Provence, not drab England -- to articulate its joyful song even though he himself was in pain.  The tension between  pleasure and pain  in the poem is palpable.  The nightingale's immortality accentuates my awareness of the poet's short life.   As you know, Keats died of tuberculosis when he was twenty six.


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Deja Vu Deconstructed

Posted by xbanguyen on September 13, 2009

Bavarian Gentians

Not every man has gentians in his house
in Soft September, at slow, Sad Michaelmas.

Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime torchlike with the smoking blueness of Pluto’s
ribbed and torchlike, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto’s dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter’s pale lamps give off
lead me then, lead me the way …

Memory is amorphous.  I still remember the first times I read that D. H. Lawrence’s poem.  The first time, you will want to correct me.  But I still can’t be sure.  All I remember  is that when I opened that volume of poetry, a graduation present, the morning after the commencement and read that poem,  I know that I had lived that moment before,  had followed those very words while the sunlight cast a peculiar  sheen on my graduation gown hanging on the hook next to the bookcase and the room was heavy with the scent of L’air Du Temps — another gift from my mother that I promptly broke in the excitement of the night before.   But it was not possible.  How could it be?  Nevertheless  the double sensation remains firmly in my memory years later.

But perhaps I had experienced that moment just a moment before.  If human memory is like certain type of  semiconductor memory that needs a clock to register, perhaps  deja vu can be explained as being a glitch on the clock edge.  At the first clock edge, my consciousness registered the entire tableau — the poem, the sunlight,  the scent and all.  The glitch followed immediately and I relived the same experience.  Even though very small, actual time has elapsed between the two edges,  making the two experiences similar and yet separate.  The question remains to be answered is the cause of the glitch and whether it can be induced.  Regardless of how or when I first read the poem,  the word Michaelmas was full of melancholy even before I looked up its meanings.  It is September and I am trying to be reconciled with the changing of seasons.

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