"More Light! More Light!" by Anthony Hecht

Brutal, grim, intensely affecting (a vague verb, but perhaps there is none more apt). I had never heard this poem before, but since listening to this I can’t stop thinking about how genius this is. This, I feel, is a situation where the tools at the disposal of verse can craft something that exceeds narrative, exceeds history.

Be aware that the subject matter is violence, death, and war crimes.

Source: poetryfoundation.org

Che gelida manina,
se la lasci riscaldar.
Cercar che giova?
Al buio non si trova.
Ma per fortuna
é una notte di luna,
e qui la luna
l’abbiamo vicina.
Aspetti, signorina,
le dirò con due parole
chi son, e che faccio,
come vivo. Vuole?
Chi son? Sono un poeta.
Che cosa faccio? Scrivo.
E come vivo? Vivo.
In povertà mia lieta
scialo da gran signore
rime ed inni d’amore.
Per sogni e per chimere
e per castelli in aria,
l’anima ho milionaria.
Talor dal mio forziere
ruban tutti i gioelli
V’entrar con voi pur ora,
ed i miei sogni usati
e i bei sogni miei,
tosto si dileguar!
Ma il furto non m’accora,
poiché, poiché v’ha preso stanza
la speranza!
Or che mi conoscete,
parlate voi, deh! Parlate. Chi siete?
Vi piaccia dir!

What a frozen little hand,
let me warm it for you.
What’s the use of looking?
We won’t find it in the dark.
But luckily
it’s a moonlit night,
and the moon
is near us here.
I will tell you in two words
who I am, what I do,
and how I live. May I?
Who am I? I am a poet.
What do I do? I write.
And how do I live? I live.
In my carefree poverty
I squander rhymes
and love songs like a lord.
When it comes to dreams and visions
and castles in the air,
I’ve the soul of a millionaire.
From time to time two thieves
steal all the jewels
out of my safe, two pretty eyes.
They came in with you just now,
and my customary dreams
my lovely dreams,
melted at once into thin air!
But the theft doesn’t anger me,
for their place has been
taken by hope!
Now that you know all about me,
you tell me who you are.

Translation by Peter J. Nasou

# Limits, Infinity, and the Female Student

I’ve observed this a few times in the realms of social sharing services, and it never fails to infuriate me in the sort of mild, simmering, toothache fury that developes if one spends long looking at socially shared images. Let’s start with how it’s obviously fake. As in, the situation described did not occur and someone is making it up to be funny. And, I’ll admit, it might be funny if it were in any way plausible — but it’s not, and the depths of its implausibility are so that here I am writing about it. The only way out is through.

First of all, the crux of this joke is how the student doesn’t realize the infinity sign ($$\infty$$) and a sideways eight (8) are different. Maybe things are different now, but when I was in school, introductory calculus was something for high school seniors or college freshmen, i.e. seventeen and eighteen year olds. Here is what this joke is asking us to accept: that an American who has spent almost two decades alive has somehow managed to avoid the infinity symbol, which has permeated pop culture and jewelery to such a degree it’s close to becoming meaningless. A third grader, maybe. But an American college student? Forget it.

Suppose the student isn’t American? I can’t really comment on the ubiquity of infinity symbol worldwide, but the only bit of knowledge we have about the student is her gender. Yes, whoever invented this situation thought it would be funnier and/or more plausible if the person who was hilariously bad at math was female. Ha ha ha, math is hard, let’s go shopping, right?

If that’s not enough, let’s look at the math itself. The horrible, stupid irony is that this image, which is supposed to be making fun of women who can’t do math, can’t do math itself. The expression that our imaginary professor spent various lessons and examples explaining, $$\lim_{x \to 8} \frac{1}{x-8}$$ is not defined. This is actually pretty easy to see, as when $$x = 7$$ the function is $$-1$$, and when $$x = 9$$ the function is 1. So when $$x$$ approaches 8 from above it tends towards positive infinity, and when it approaches 8 from below it tends toward negative infinity. Thus, the most you can really say is $$\lim_{x \to 8^{+}} \frac{1}{x-8} = \infty$$

Thus: joke author writing implausible, unfunny joke in which imaginary woman flubs a math problem actually reveals self to be even worse at math than his target.

Engrossing, clear account of Bobby Fischer vs. Donald Byrne.  Fischer was 13 at the time.  I don’t really know much about competitive chess, but this commentary was enlightening and I only got lost one or two times.