cognovi clipeum

In nineteen sixty-four
Plumbing the world abyss,
I, Pythagoras, saw
The holy tetraktys
And knew by its witnesses
I had been here before.

Brookhaven was the place
Where, from our cyclotron
Probing the bottom of space,
The shield of Euphorbos shone.
What the world rests upon
Stared me once more in the face:

The mathematical ark
On which I first set forth
To chart the void, to mark
The eightfold way’s true north.
My dove, for what it was worth,
Returned as a triple quark;

My pebbles were baryons now
And the charges they bore not mine
But the frame was enough to show
A craft of the same design;
And there for a seal and a sign
Shone Omega at the prow.

She was rigged by more subtle men;
They had probed far deeper than I;
Yet when I looked again
Something had gone awry:
Where was the harmony
Plucked from the sacred ten?

Deep in the atom’s core
Number was still the frame
Of all things as before
But music no more than a name
And the rainbow never came
Down to that final floor.

Yet I who had scanned the night
Lit with its lamps above
And measured the boundless height
Knew, though I could not prove,
As the soul is tempered by love
Or darkness tempered by light,

That here at the bottom of things
The infinitesimally small
Was tuned like the phorminx strings
To the limitless and the all—
But Furies rise to appal
And destroy the poet who sings;

And the dogs of song give chase
Loosed from their leash of rhyme;
And the dove on the waters’ face
Is drowned for Hippasos’ crime
If she tells how the sphere called time
Joins there with the sphere called space.

I saw and was silent then:
There is peril in truths concealed
By Zeus from the minds of men.
Shall this, too, be revealed?
Shall I look once more on the shield?
I must wait to be born again.

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