Follow the reluctant adventures in the life of a Welsh astrophysicist sent around the world for some reason, wherein I photograph potatoes and destroy galaxies in the name of science. And don't forget about my website,

Friday 20 May 2011

Ode to the Passing of the Cornell Administration

One of the dangerous properties of an e-book reader is the superabundance of books available for free, and the staggeringly obscene levels of books at prices so minute they're practically quantum (some sort of Planck Price, it seems). Of course, many of these are by new, struggling and therefore hopeless authors and I'm sure I don't need to read any of them to know that for a fact. But, on the plus side, there's a vast assemblage of expired copyright material, e.g., all of H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, etc. Which brings us to Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

I downloaded the complete works of the said author on a whim, having previously taken a shine to Kubla Khan and The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. Little did I suspect that this 18th century poet was actually a blogger, and worse, a tweeter. This guy wrote his every waking thought, apparently convinced that there was no subject too petty, boring or utterly unsuitable for a short yet enormously dramatic poem. I was under the impression that writing one's most fleeting and inconsequential  thoughts to the world in general was a modern abuse of technology. Oh how very wrong I was.

For instance, for one Coleridge's early works is about none other than his nose. His nose ! For goodness sake, what in the world would make anyone write nasal poetry ? I mean, how poetic can a nose be ? Well, in the hands of Coleridge it becomes an 8 stanza weapon of words with which to beat his readers into confused submission - the first two stanzas will suffice :

Ye souls unus’d to lofty verse
Who sweep the earth with lowly wing,
Like sand before the blast disperse —
A Nose! a mighty Nose I sing!
As erst Prometheus stole from heaven the fire
To animate the wonder of his hand;

Thus with unhallow’d hands, O Muse, aspire,
And from my subject snatch a burning brand!
So like the Nose I sing — my verse shall glow —
Like Phlegethon my verse in waves of fire shall flow! 

Which seems to translate roughly as, "You poetry-hating dingbats, I shall blast you all away with my mighty flaming nose !"

Cryptic stuff. Of course, he also wrote about more proper poetic subjects, like the Moon and trees and happy little bunny rabbits and terrible tragedies. All well and good, but he then he also wrote about stuff like universities, protests in the House of Lords, a short climbing trip, the poor quality of suspension on horse-drawn carriages, mathematical problems, and my personal favourite so far - his kettle. All of which are so dramatic they're the 18th century poetical equivalent of Bonnie Tyler on LSD. This is Coleridge on breaking his kettle :

Your cheerful songs, ye unseen crickets, cease!
Let songs of grief your alter'd minds engage!
For he who sang responsive to your lay,
What time the joyous bubbles 'gan to play,
The sooty swain has felt the fire's fierce rage;--
Yes, he is gone, and all my woes increase;
I heard the water issuing from the wound--
No more the Tea shall pour its fragrant steams around!

I guess that's opium for you. Anyway, in the spirit of reporting news items in ultra-dramatic poetic form, Cornell University will cease to operate Arecibo from October. So, here goes...

O Muse who sangest late Cornell's pain
To griefs domestic turn thy coal-black steed !
With much-delayed steps thy administrative transfer must go,
Then over-prompt announcements much confusion sow,
When scatter'd round each dark and deadly malicious news feed,
Thus shalt the hapless rumour mill complain.

While astronomers shall shriek and aeronomers shall howling run !
The telescope is spoilt and Cornell is undone !*
Stanford, thy longful songs, ye unseen crickets, cease !
Let songs of victory your alter'd minds engage !
For they who sang unresponsive to your complete and utter lack of official info,
Shall in time to hear thy will and make it so.

O what whilst thine benefits package dare contain ?
And what retirement options shalt it constrain ?
Not all employees shall e'er again recieve,
A paycheque by a uniform source's leave !
And still, as erst, let favour'd NAIC exist,
Largest ever of the large and oft-shrouded in mist !

* Disclaimer : not necessarily. In fact probably not. All hail out new benevolent masters !

I never claimed it would be any good, but I don't care because now I'm running away to Boston to go whaling. Or maybe it was whale-watching. Probably should check that.

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