May 11th, 2008

Computers and Poems

Yesterday Brent and I went to the Computer History Museum to see Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine. He designed it because he was mad about the mistakes in logarithm tables (this is a problem I would never have, not just because I never need to use tables like this, but also because I would never notice the mistakes.). Go see the gizmo. It is cool.

Since I am a writer, not an engineer, I made a poem about it. Here it is:

The page crawled with
Answers, lies, black ink ants,
Traitors, slipshod workers,
Little lucifers to algebraic god.
And so the sage built him
A cage of brass, of copper, steel.
Teeth, wires, bones grinding
The sacred music, smooth as oil,
Silent, pressing out a plaster image,
An ideal white perfect idol, the purest
Inhuman mathematics
From the helical swirl of levers.
Poetry, jealous, gave monkeys,
Roadsigns, vivisected cats.
Chronometers weighted down
The lilting lines and surveyors
Peered through their secret sights
And still the poet glared
At the infamous human errors
On the printed page.