An Engineer's Literary Notebook

Exploring the real and surreal connections between poetry and engineering

Archive for August, 2010

A Derivative of Sunlight

Posted by xbanguyen on August 15, 2010

There was a tremulous quality in the heat of summer this afternoon. Oh it was warm all right, especially for our city of rain, the wavy air above the hood of my car attesting to that.  With that intensity, why did the sense of fragility persist? As dusk approached, the piece of sky over the mountains beyond my window transitioned from blue to red with no visible demarcation, the glowing red reminding me of a childhood tale of the light illuminating the kitchen of heaven. Now it is dark. The seagulls are still awake,  judging from the raucous noise they are making  — If you hear them now, you’ll agree that raucous is an apt adjective, jaded though it may sound.  But I know little about the nocturnal habits of seagulls. All I can profess to know is that things change. Change is constant.  That sounds like a bumper sticker and I read somewhere that one should not live life as decreed by bumper stickers. Regardless, changes are mathematically expressed as derivatives. Specifically, the derivative of a function is defined as an infinitesimal change in the function with respect to one of its variables. The rate of change in the intensity of light as the summer night deepens can be expressed as a mathematical equation.  The thought that the light from the distant stars I see tonight has been in transit for thousands of years brings me a sense of peace —  I am not sure why, just as I am not sure why the following poem resonates. It does, and I am thankful for its existence.

De Vegetabilibus

For there are splendors of flowers called DAY’S EYES in every field.For one cannot walk but to walk upon sun.

For the sun has also a stem, on which it turns.
For the tree forms sun into leaves, & its branches & saps

are solid & liquid states of sun.

For the sun has many seasons, & all of them summer.
For the carrot & bee both bless with sun,

the carrot beneath the earth & the bee with its dusts & honies.

For the sun has stippled the pear & polished the apple.

Ronald Johnson

Such luxury it is to have many seasons, all of them summers. But many does not mean infinite. I remember writing, once upon a time in grade school, of the stoic acceptance after being told that the sun was but an immense mass of gas and would decay. The need to affirm infinity is irrational so I will think of the ripe berries found in the summer market this morning and of all the berries in the summers to come, of the earth lying fallow under the autumn leaves, of the fat tulip bulbs that will bloom next year, and be content.

Thank you for your inquiry, dear muse.

1. The derivative illustration is from

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