Monday, July 09, 2012

`Nature Geometrizeth'

Stuck to the bottom of a plank shelf in the garage was an abandoned paper wasp nest, about an inch deep, five inches across and shaped like the state of Iowa. The paper is dry and gray, and made rustling sounds when I plucked it from the wood. Its petiole remained intact, like the stem of an apple. The cells where the wasps reared their young are perfect hexagonal tubes, now egg-less. Seeing their instinct-driven geometry is a marvel. Perhaps because I know the late Jonathan Williams’ “A Vulnerary” (Jubilant Thicket: New & Selected Poems, 2005), the nest resembles a small musical instrument, a mouth organ of sorts:  

“air in a hornet's nest
over the water makes a
solid, six-sided music...” 

Guy Davenport in “Jonathan Williams” (The Geography of the Imagination, 1981) observes of its thirteen words: 

“…every quality is mirrored in another (and an aria and a horn are camouflaged into the richness); that the lines are typographically isometric, seven-syllabled, and inwardly ornamental (-net’s nest; solid/sided; s, m, and n so placed as to make a bass line to the treble) is as native an instinct to the poet as the hornet’s hexagonal architecture.” 

Vulnerary, from the Latin vulnus, “wound,” refers to a drug used to heal wounds – a remedy or curative. From it we get vulnerable. In Pseudodoxia Epidemica, Sir Thomas Browne refutes the popular notion of healing wounds with magnetism, and urges the common-sense application of “ordinary Balsams, or common vulnerary plaisters [poultices or plasters].” Browne was a physician and a man of the seventeenth century, in whom science and superstition, medicine and faith, coexisted. In his great celebration of form and pattern in nature, The Garden of Cyrus, he writes of the “sexangular Cels in the Honeycombs of Bees,” each cell being “a six-sided figure, whereby every cell affords a common side unto six more, and also a fit receptacle for the Bee it self.” Before moving on to the patterns found on the skins of “Snakes and Serpents” and the “remarkable tayl of the Bever [sic],” Browne concludes: 

“…nature Geometrizeth, and observeth order in all things.”

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