Monday, November 14, 2011

Dear love, musing not of aurochs and angels, but of E.D. and
prime numbers, and of paintings of women with mandolins...

But why her 181st?, D asks me. I've told him about the upcoming birthday party, how I wouldn't miss it for the world. The idea of it has seized me. I feel compelled almost to go. It feels important to attend, in a way I can feel (circle, circumference) but can't quite name.

Why not some other birthday, say the 180th?

Maybe they couldn't get it together last year. So it's this year.

I like that it's 181, such an important event on such an odd anniversary, says D.

I've just woken up and he's brought me a cup of coffee, up to the aerie. I take a sip. And then it occurs to me.

Is 181 a prime number?

We're both in our nightclothes still - what a question
at this crepuscular chilly dawn hour, though things are
cozy & warm upstairs.

D feels on the spot. Of course I don't expect him to know!

But I feel as though I've inadvertently hit on something.
I feel certain, even without verifying (though soon after I do)
that 181 is prime.

And then it all starts zooming together and clicking and converging. E.D. is a Prime Number herself, to say the least - unique, sui generis - it's marvelous to commemorate her on such an anniversary.

Is 181 a prime number I google. And am amazed at what I learn from the wiki entry... my imagination's been racing since (horseheads towards heaven indeed)...

181 is a prime number
it's an odd number
it's a palindromic prime number (reads the same backwards & forwards)
not only that it's a 'strobogrammatic' prime - the same when viewed upside down

I love that 181 is a "star number" that contains (when plotted out) a hexagram within

I love that 181 is an "undulating" number - even if I have no idea what that means
181 is an "odious" number - good thing I'm not Olwyn Hughes, or it Ted - I'd sue

I have to say, I'm feeling a little frustrated at the moment that I can't somehow roll this all up into a ball - and come up with a poem, or some pithy analysis

the associations & coincidences (and I've only scratched the surface) are sparking like - on a day less damp than today - well, whatever stone it is that one strikes against another stone in the hope of gaining a spark. (Sorry, I'm many many generations out from the Upper, let alone Lower, Paleolithic - I could not say, nor, despite girl-scouting days, light such a fire - I'd perish, for sure)

Darling, I digress...

But still, the connections between the math & her poetry...

(and before that, here's another cool numerological fact re: 181 - almost spooky:
that 2011 is also the sum of 11 consecutive prime numbers: 2011=157+163+167+173+179+181+191+193+197+199+211)

I saw several disparate examples of E.D.'s handwritten fragmentary manuscripts the other day, including her recipe for coconut cake - and I had noted how the form of the recipe reminded me of the form of her poems

but so too the form of her poems
remind me of mathematical proofs
& formulae and seeringly intersecting connections among points

181 is the sum of 5 consecutive prime numbers:
29 + 31 + 37 + 41 + 43
her poems are like consecutive primes summed up to a prime

I simply don't know how to express it -
I lack the theoretical mathematical language

but somehow she was able to in her poems
just -

well I don't know what I'm saying
but she was so very economical in her expression
her words read as concisely and perfectly as (I can only imagine)
an elegantly stated mathematical theorem

I'm a bit of a romantic
I have a bit of a fanciful notion going
of almost a seance (not quite, not really)
just a bunch of self-selected participants
at the Homestead on her 181st
the group of us
assembled, standing in her room
regarding her smooth white counterpane, the tiny desk
our faces aglow in candlelight
our shadows flickering against the walls
the night pitch black beyond the panes
my midnight blue top, beneath my black sweater,
quietly sparkling

I can imagine 181's twin prime - 179 - going - you know
it's a proof if it feels as though the top of your head gets blown off

paraphrasing hopelessly, my dearest

here's birthday girl herself
If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know. Is there any other way.
dearest, drawing a fleece ever closer over my shoulders
should go downstairs to join dinner being grilled, in progress

very many kisses
and I had wonderful wonderful sweet sessions with you
that too

Bind me -- I still can sing --
Banish -- my mandolin
Strikes true within --

Slay -- and my Soul shall rise
Chanting to Paradise --
Still thine.

Emily Dickinson, #1005

P.S. Another small item (link here) my mind's been working on... the writers, each eminent & wonderful, seem to be referring to two completely different paintings...

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875), L'Atelier de Corot [The Artist's Studio], (jeune Femme en robe rose, assise devant un chevalet et tenant une mandoline), 1860, oil on canvas, 64 cm x 48 cm (25.2 x 18.9), private collection.

Corot, The Artist's Studio, c. 1868, oil on panel, 61.8 × 40 cm (24.3 × 15.7 in), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

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