An Engineer's Literary Notebook

Exploring the real and surreal connections between poetry and engineering

An Attraction Unexplained

Posted by xbanguyen on October 4, 2009

Literature Blogs

Certain words are easy on the eyes.  Take,  for instance, iridescent, dapple, lilting, peal, sparrow.  Of course one reader's pearls  are another reader's sands.  Subjectivity aside, within one single perception, what makes certain words more appealing than others?  Is it the way their letters interplay? Is it the way they roll off the tongue of the whisperer, you know the one, in your mind's eye?  Do you have to understand a word in order to be attracted to it?  For me, the words that appeal do not necessarily always belong in the conventional domain of poetry and literature.  In fact, the other day when I was reviewing certain areas of signal processing theory,  instead of absorbing the technical aspects of such words as harmonic transformation, abscissa of convergence, abelian and tauberian, convolution, I saw them standing aloft,  austere and beautiful.  That they appear austere has to do with the fact that they carry exact meanings -- mathematically, the convolution of two functions is the integral of the products of these functions after one of them is reversed and shifted.

I read somewhere that inconsolable is the saddest word in the English language.  There is logic in that observation if you dissect the word.  For me bereft is another one.  The tendency to brood lingers as I follow this line of thoughts.  Thankfully, the following poem provides a diversion, albeit not a complete one, by observing nature.  Read it with me slowly, savoring the rhythm and the alliteration as the poet follows a stream back to its fount.


This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, fell-frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

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