Jacob Bourjaily

Jacob Bourjaily's Writings

Some (original) Poetry

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A Collection of Poetry
and Miscellaneous Writings
Jacob Bourjaily

I recently have found myself writing short verse. I like to think that it is my way to excercise new 'muscle groups' while relaxing those I otherwise exercise more than twenty hours a day. The result, is a growing collection of short poems that I was encouraged to share with a wider audience. You will find them below (sometimes with some background, but not typically).

I guess I should remark that the poems below were written by Jacob Bourjaily, who claims copyright to each poem. They cannot be reproduced or published without the author's expressed permission in writing except for purely academic purposes.


Song for Brother Kepler's Heavenly Zeal

Stanza 1
In harmony, in inspired harmony
Kepler's Pythagorean dream began:
Heaven's orbs confined
Within a Platonic cage,
Perfect by design.
But this perfect harmony
He would never find,
For eccentricity
Prevents his planetary align
As proved with Tycho's sage.
In harmony, in inspired harmony
Kepler's Pythagorean dream began:
From harmony to harmony
His fervor did command
The reason of this once great man.

Stanza 2
What reason cannot fervor raise and quell!
When Pythagorean zeal can tell
The pentagramèd hands of treason
To smother an irrational rebel
For his discordant cords of Reason?
More than a Pentad there could never dwell
The rule to distribute Heaven's five shells.
(Subjected to what Tycho may foretell?)
What fervor cannot Reason raise and quell!

Stanza 3
In Rudolphine precision
Nature shews her perfect flaws
While giving true direction
Towards a much greater Cause.
But never never never can
Its deafening truth resound,
In minds of men who have already found
Faith more perfect and unnatural than man.

Stanza 4
In a sacred discourse he
Recites his Pythagorean dream
Whose miasmic veracity is easily seen
In every word but the author's vain plea.

Stanza 5
With sharpened eyes behind a golden nose
The heavenly orbs were justly shewn
To be no more than sections of a cone
With unbalanced foci, aphelion alone.
(And from this to chaos if Tycho's globe he chose.)

Stanza 6
But: ``God established nothing without beauty
(Not bound by prior law of necessity).
If we weigh the thing fairly carefully,
It will appear to be not very likely
That He most wise established harmony
Between planetary journeys especially.''

Stanza 7
Tycho's care exposed the sky,
Disproving the Ptolemaic lie
(While neither in support of Brahe
Or young Kepler's pre-formed eye).
The power of his vision great,
Never would he lose his faith
In that he could not demonstrate.

Grand Chorus
In Kepler's song of Heavenly song
Platonic orbs do circumscribe
Arcs which planets must planet along
Copernicus' sun on the sinister side.
These aspherical spheres,
Sometime more distant than near,
Follow God's purposèd song
Ringing unheard chords in the ether,
Concordant only in the ears of Kepler.

The poem above is somewhat of a pastiche of Dryden's Song for St. Cecelia's Day and a reflection of Kepler's Harmonies of the World. I was inspired to write the above after reading Kepler's own powerfully tragic prose.

The following are poems formed by slightly modifying lines from Kepler's own words in his Harmonies (as translated by Wallis in the Prometheus Books publication of 1995):

If you pardon me, I shall rejoice;
If you are enraged, I shall bear up.
If the Heavens have sounded heav'nly noise
While God Himself six thousand years has sought
His contemplator, then let me await
My reader for a hundred years so late.

Since God established nothing without geometrical beauty
(Not bound by prior law of necessity)
If we weigh the thing fairly carefully
It will appear to be not very likely
That the most wise Creator should have established harmony
Between planetary journeys especially.

I give myself to sacred madness
And rejoice the very perfect harmony
Of the celestial movements and the
Genesis of eccentricities
And the periodic times of the same:
In a sacred discourse, a most true hymn to God,
I present a most correct astronomical doctrine:
That which I prophesied (two and twenty years ago);
In which I was firmly persuaded (before I had seen);
Which I had promised my friends in title
(Before I was sure of itself the thing).
And now found to be truer than I had even hoped.
Not in that mode wherein I had conceived,
But in a very different mode
(Also very excellent and very perfect).

There are two things which disclose to use harmony:
Light apprehended through the eyes, and sound through the ears.
The mind seizes upon these forms instinctively
Discerning concordant from discordant and far from near.
Now there are no sounds in the heavenly sky,
Nor is motion so turbulent to make noise through the ether.
Light alone remains to teach only the eyes,
By geometry and arithmetic, the ratios of the spheres.

But now, Urania, there is need for louder
Sound while I climb along the harmonic
Scale of the celestial movements to higher
Things where the true archetype of the fabric
Of the world is kept hidden.
Follow after, ye modern musician,
And judge the thing according to your arts,
Which alluded antiquity until Descartes.

The movements of the heavens are nothing
Except a certain everlasting
Polyphony (intelligible, not audible)
Like certain syncopations or cadences,
(Wherewith men imitate these natural),
Which tends towards fixed and prescribed clauses—
The single clauses having six terms (like voices)—
And which marks out and distinguishes
The immensity of time with those notes.
It is no longer a surprise that man should boast
Having discovered the art of singing
Polyphonically: that he might to an
Extent taste the delight everlasting
In time, imitating God the Workman.


When will I find compensation for sleep?
Or enjoy the fruits my success will reap?
When will I know it hasn't all been a waste?
Pretending to pretend I made no mistake.
A few years more, education complete,
Will I look to the sky too dazzled to speak
Of all the mysteries still taunting my sleep?
Or shall I consent and admit my defeat.
But how could a life so devoted fall short?
Anything so serious is hardly a sport.
As I lay down many years from today
I hope I feel pride for an ability to say:
"I have asked more than any could ask
And know more today than anyone passed.''


I will toil and I will endure,
For tomorrow's requisites
And rewards remain unsure.
All that I have are my wits,
And this final page, a monument
To an ephemeral life, capriciously
Spent avoiding the descent
Of a still rising sun, of me.

A quiet hum from the o'erhead lights
Fills the room of Klein on many long nights:
A mass gap of sound above silent ground
Causing weightless eyes to whirl around.
Tomorrow morning comes before the sun
To call upon requisites one by one.


Echoes of corked silence
Fill the air like a smoggy mass
Amidst the subtle ambience
Of the light from stainèd glass.
On this chilly midsummer's eve
On the Cambridge end I study
The rehersèd roles of studious
Beauty with feigned apathy.
I consider the precipice
Before our introduction and my
Assurèd descent at the ascent:
For I can only fall deeply. I
Do not know love which is sent
Without oneself's entire heart.


An ethereal light emerging from
The lower right, overtaking a blue
Sign of the brilliant, cool, distant sun,
Splitting Oxford's seals in varying hue.
A miasma of light, blinding to sight,
Reflects from pools and lakes of silver ice
Upon earthly mounds from dawn until night,
When alkaline bulbs continue her plight.


Walking home from silent study last night
I stopped amazed by celestial lights;
Is that there Cygnus, and there Antares?
Oh! what distant, etherial fairies!
I remember when we shared together
So many evenings through chilly weather,
Catching nebulae in buckets of light
While casting a gaze at heavenly sights.


A single lamp along my homeward path
Lights the walk and accents the darkness;
Peaceful flies swarm in the light's warm bath
Above my journey home from business.

Shall I paint me myself?
I have naught the artist's eye
Nor the poet's tongue,
But no epicure of placid arts
Could ever pierce my heart.
I am rough yet firm,
Like the mountain who is conquered
By none less than intrepid, quixotic.
Have I been conquered?
Not even by myself.


Yet she may exist who can claim her meed.
I beguile my thoughts with theory,
Feigning to see Nature as she sees me,
And distract my senses with fine poetry.
I am eroticized by esoterica of every breed
And imbibe abstraction with alacrity.
Yet each night I dream of something more,
Something to justify my nights before.


The path I am on is as clear
And indirect as a river.
I am told I have nothing to fear:
Successes today will start my career.
But how many years will it take
Before it has become too late
To be more than Harvard professor
Living up to my strongest investor
Being able to honestly say
I have done more than most may.

Sometimes when my thoughts are free
My wandering mind turns to thee;
I wonder how your life may be
And if you every think of me.
I have grown enormously.
And am today a better me.
And your perfection could not recede
For you posses every quality
That one could desire, majestically.


If I were with you, and not so terribly alone,
Maybe I wouldn't have been worth the effort.
Without you, I've soared beyond all my idle dreams,
Farther, faster than if bound by your lovely chain.
But I often think back to those pleasant days when
I'd smell you golden hair and hope you wouldn't notice
My longing stare while I studied your every grace and beauty.
You were my highest reverence.
I often wonder why I failed courage to disrupt your peace.
Never have I stopped hoping for another chance.


I never asked you to wait for me
And it is probably already too late,
But I have never stopped loving thee
And have always won at tempting fate.
So if you have ever shared my love
Then please know that I am true
And will continue soaring above,
Aiming to some day be equal to you.

I have never met her,
But I know her well;
She's hopelessly better
Than I could ever tell.
Or perhaps I am mistaken:
She is but a dream,
Less than what she seem?
But my dreams do surfeit
While my heart doth pine;
Never have I known defeat
I hope she would be mine.


I see her now before me,
As on many evenings before.
I consider the unknown ecstasy
Of knowing her little more.
Barely a word has passed between
Her and me: a tragedy of fear.
Glances caught but never seen
While she stays far from near.


Her mind's verdure, both halcyon and pure;
No sacrifice made, her Reason kept free
Of poisonous faith and blinding austere---
Yet quixotic, sure of morality.
Her beauty piquant, every room's cynosure
Facile, elegant, learnèd and wise;
Selfishly she'll have no other emir,
Than her own indefatigable eyes.



Mathematical delight