Tuesday Afternoon Physics Poetry, the Symmetry Edition

Symmetry is a very popular and useful concept in physics. (There’s even a journal on particle physics called Symmetry Magazine.) When confronted with a problem, it often helps to ask: does this problem change at all when I look at it… up-side down?… rotated over 90 degrees? … with time running backwards? … in a mirror? … with all charges reversed? …? Answers to these questions can simplify the problem considerably, sometimes even give you the solution right away.

This week’s poem deals with another kind of symmetry, not the useful but the fearful kind. It leads me to ask two questions that have little to do with physics:

1. Did “symmetry” rhyme with “eye” around 1800? and
2. Argues this poem for or against Intelligent Design?

By the way, this one really should be read aloud. Try it! Start quietly, so there’s plenty of room for the inevitable crescendo. (Is it inevitable? Where would you start and end it?)

The Tyger

Tyger, tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And watered heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger, tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake, ca 1794

Illustrated version here

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