Tuesday, July 30, 2019

For Your Enjoyment: The Sciences Sing a Lullaby by Albert Goldbarth

The Sciences Sing a Lullabye (audio link)

Physics says: go to sleep. Of course
you're tired. Every atom in you
has been dancing the shimmy in silver shoes
nonstop from mitosis to now.
Quit tapping your feet. They'll dance
inside themselves without you. Go to sleep.

Geology says: it will be all right. Slow inch
by inch America is giving itself
to the ocean. Go to sleep. Let darkness
lap at your sides. Give darkness an inch.
You aren't alone. All of the continents used to be
one body. You aren't alone. Go to sleep.

Astronomy says: the sun will rise tomorrow,
Zoology says: on rainbow-fish and lithe gazelle,
Psychology says: but first it has to be night, so
Biology says: the body-clocks are stopped all over town
and
History says: here are the blankets, layer on layer, down and down.

                       by Albert Goldbarth

--


This tremendous poem is from the Ultra-Talk/Stand-Up Poetry master Albert Goldbarth. I love the musicality of this poem, which can often be lost in the more prosey poetry of the Ultra-Talk. For example, take a look at the repetition of /s/ and /t/ sounds "has been dancing the shimmy in silver shoes / nonstop from mitosis to now / Quit tapping your feet. They'll dance / inside themselves" and the sharp consonant sounds of p's and q in "nonstop" and "quit tapping".

While it doesn't maintain a steady rhyme (the final stanza is the closest to a standard rhythm) you have subtle nods to rhyme with you/shoes, feet/sleep in S1, and uses direct repetition in S2. Now, it could be just looking too deep into a simple choice, but I like to think that the direct repetition being with Geology, which is notoriously cyclical isn't chance but intentional. The final stanza turns the reading of the poem (structurally) a bit, or it did for me the first time reading it. In the first two stanzas I took the italicized "Physics/Geology says" as part of the poem just, stressed. With the final stanza it becomes apparent that those are more like stage directions.

The final stanza is a five part verse with each science personified and singing its part. If it isn't that, the reading becomes a bit awkward if you were to remove the line breaks "Astronomy says 'the sun will rise tomorrow', Zoology says 'on rainbow-fish and lithe gazelle,' Psychology says..." as opposed to it reading as 5 sequential voices saying "the sun will rise tomorrow on rainbow-fish and lithe gazelle, but first it has to be night, so the body-clocks are stopped all over town  and here are the blankets, layer on layer, down and down."

The little touches from each branch of science definitely strengthen the poem, and history ending with its soothing repetition is perfect.

Bonus writing exercise: Write another type of a song from specific sciences, whether you use some of the ones chosen by Goldbarth or others. Here is a list of different types of songs. Or just write a lullaby from other sciences, or in a specific situation (in a jail cell, in a foxhole, on a sailboat, in a cocoon etc).

If you'd like some music to write to, it only seems fair to link They Might Be Giants' wonderful album "Here Comes Science".



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