Poetry : it's a numbers game

For a few years now, my poetry has been caught up with numbers & counting. When I start fiddling around with meaningful numbers, stanza designs, line-counts, etc., I know there's a poem on its way. It's usually connected with other things I've been obsessing about.

The work-in-progress Lanthanum... how did it originate? It's been over a year now, I'd have to look through the old scribbles. I remember I simply liked the sound of it - that Greek word for an atomic element (# 57). & what it came from etymologically, as named by its discoverer (Grk for "secret, hidden, unnoticed").

I got into this number thing back in the late 80s, reading books by Alastair Fowler and others on numerology as a design factor in ancient & Renaissance poetry. & in connection with wild speculative books by John Michell et al., on Pythagorean geometry & ancient measuring systems, gematria (the practice of assigning meaningful numerical values to letters & words), etc.

Lanthanum is based on the # 57, as well as the quatrain, & the associated numbers 7, 4, 28. 7 & 28, obviously, have connections with the lunar cycle & the seven-day week. When you think that the 7-day week & other calendrical systems help to "synchronize" human activity with astronomical phenomena (the 365 rotations of the earth in one yearly revolution of the sun), you can start to see how these systems work on a symbolic level. Thus, for example, Genesis describes the creation of the universe in 6 days, with the Creator resting on the 7th; which obviously fits rather neatly into the numerical division of the 365-day year into (52) weeks; so that the tradition of working 6 days & resting on the 7th (sabbath) day means that, in doing so, Man imitates & remembers the Creator, resting "with him" at the end of the work week.

A poem based on these numbers might be saying something similar, in a figurative sense. Lanthanum is (projectively) made up of 3 volumes; each volume has 4 chapters; each chapter has 3 sequences; & each sequence has 8 poems : consisting of 7 poems of 7 stanzas, or 28 (4x7) lines each, and an 8th poem containing 8 stanzas (32 lines). Therefore each sequence contains a set of 7x7 or 49 stanzas (in 7 poems), plus an 8th poem (of 8 stanzas). The total number of stanzas then, in each sequence, is 57 (the number of lanthanum). (There are more complex patterns hidden in the whole design, but they shall remain "hidden"!)

Another figurative dimension implied here in this pattern 49 + 1, 49 + 8, has to do with the "sabbath of sabbaths", or Jubilee year (every 50 yrs in ancient Israel). In Lanthanum I apply lots of indirect & figurative symbolism to synthesize this number (50) with the number of states in the U.S., with the "sabbath number" (7), with their fusion or sum (57), etc. I like to spin out & play with the religious, historical, & poetic implications of these combinations (since I think of poetry itself as a kind of semi-divine sabbatical "play", which intrinsically praises & celebrates life & nature in its aspects of wholeness & creative fulfillment or completion).

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