A poem

I didn’t used to be into poetry, at least not writing it, but here’s my recent poem:
Of Time and Physics – A Poem*
(with apologies to both Shakespeare and James Thomson)

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps on this petty pace from day to day
To the last moment of recorded time
But what is time? you say

We heard the sound of time go by
Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock
Was that a kind of tapping that was coming from a clock
Or did we hear the Stalker’s steps
Who seeks us as his prey?
Is Death approaching closer
As he hunts us, day by day?

But as we live, what is this time?
Is time our rush through space to find a way?
Is time our granting of a chance to pray?
Is life a dream that comes our way
With time a measure of its stay?
But when a dream day after day is brought
Throughout a week, and such weeks few or many
Recur each year for several years, can any
Discern that dream from real life in aught?

Can life be but a dream
A passing shadow that is heard no more
From clocks or nothingness?

And yet we live
With active roles
And formulated plans. We try
To work with stationary states
And calculate transition probabilities.
We work with measurements, invoking laws.
Laws about what? you ask.
A dream?

And yet we see
These forms return
Some frequently, some seldom
Some by night and some by day
Some night and day.
While some show change
Yet others vanish quite.
We learn
That while all change in time that many show
In their recurrence with recurrent changes
A certain seeming order; where this ranges
We count things real; such is memory’s might.

But what is memory? you ask
Does memory hold the real behind the mask?
Is memory run forward our new grace?
Can it move so, like any other pace?

Yet Zeno taught us long ago
With paradox, and paradox
The way the world appears to us
Is not a true reality.

Is this then physical reality?
Is physics but a child of memory?
– C. Herzenberg

*(The poem incorporates adapted excerpts from Shakespeare, including from “Macbeth” Act 5, scene 5; and from Scottish poet James Thomson’s poem “The City of Dreadful Night”. James Thomson was a distant family relative.)




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Caroline Herzenberg

I'm an old grad from the University of Chicago. Born in New Jersey in 1932 (Wow! That long ago!), grew up in Oklahoma, undergraduate at MIT, University of Chicago PhD physics 1958. Various academic and research positions. I've been retired from Argonne National Laboratory for over a decade now. I haven't been engaged in any recent professional work in physics, but have been exploring other interests during retirement.

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