Dec. 15, 2008

The Conjugation of the Paramecium

by Muriel Rukeyser

This has nothing
to do with

The species
is continued
as so many are
(among the smaller creatures)
by fission

(and this species
is very small
next in order to
the amoeba, the beginning one)

The paramecium
achieves, then,
by dividing

But when
the paramecium
desires renewal
strength another joy
this is what
the paramecium does:

The paramecium
lies down beside
another paramecium

Slowly inexplicably
the exchange
takes place
in which
some bits
of the nucleus of each
are exchanged

for some bits
of the nucleus
of the other

This is called
the conjugation of the paramecium.

"The Conjugation of the Paramecium" by Muriel Rukeyser, from The Speed of Darkness. © W. W. Norton, 1968. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Irish writer Edna O'Brien, (books by this author) born in County Clare in the west of Ireland (1932). She was raised on a farm and then moved to Dublin to become a pharmacist. One day, she bought a book with passages from James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and she decided to become a writer.

Edna O'Brien was only 26 when she sat down to write her first novel, and it took her just three weeks. That novel was Country Girls (1960), the first book in a trilogy that follows the lives of two women from their childhood in a convent school in western Ireland to their unhappy marriages in London. The books talk openly about poverty, sexuality, and religious repression. They were banned in Ireland as soon as they were published.

It's the birthday of poet Muriel Rukeyser, (books by this author) born in New York City (1913). In 1931, when she was still a teenager, she drove from New York to Scottsboro, Alabama, to cover a controversial trial of nine young black men accused of raping two white girls. She devoted the rest of her life to activism and writing. Over five decades, she wrote more than 15 collections of poetry.

It's the birthday of physicist and writer Freeman Dyson, (books by this author) born in Crawthorne Village, England (1923). While he was in his 20s, he made a huge contribution to science: He solved the central problem of quantum electrodynamics, a theory that describes how light and matter interact.

Dyson was on a Greyhound bus trip across America when the revelation came to him. He said, "As we were driving across Nebraska on the third day, something suddenly happened. For two weeks I had not thought about physics, and now it came bursting into my consciousness like an explosion." He sorted out all the different theories and came up with the reconciling equations and diagrams — all in his head, because he didn't have paper or a pencil on him.

When he was 55 years old, he published his first book, Disturbing the Universe (1979), in which he tries to "give to non-scientists a picture of the human passions, misadventures, and dreams that constitute the life of a scientist." He's written many books since then, and his most recent is A Many-Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe (2007).

He said of scientific theories: "You sit quietly gestating them, for nine months or whatever the required time may be, and then one day they are out on their own, not belonging to you any more but to the whole community of scientists. Whatever it is that you produce, a baby, a book, or a theory, it is a piece of the magic of creation. You are producing something that you do not fully understand."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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