An Imperial Stormtrooper Foresees His Death

Silly Verse Series, 6/?

In honour of the Star Wars movie coming out today, here is a pastiche from my Star War Poems series that appeared in Ecdysis in 2015.  This one is, of course, making W. B. Yeats roll in his grave.

An Imperial Stormtrooper Foresees His Death

I know that I shall meet my fate
Beyond the Galaxy above.
Rebels I fight, I do not hate,
Empire I guard, I do not love.
My planet is Mos Eisley Cross,
My folk its scum and villainy.
No likely end can bring them loss
Or make them happier or more free.
No law nor duty bade me fight,
Not Vader, nor Coruscant yon;
A lonely impulse of delight
Led me to put white armour on.
I balanced all, brought all to mind:
A waste of breath seemed future’s course,
A waste of breath the years behind,
And there’s no balance to the Force.

— Tamara Vardomskaya, 2015.

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Orchestral Jabberwocky

Silly Verse Series, 5/?

At the beginning of undergrad, I came across a website of parodies of “Jabberwocky,” and promptly decided to do one of my own. This one came out as a homage to my experience in high school orchestra and string ensemble. Particularly in its only slightly anonymized portrayal of our music teacher and conductor Ms. Trudy Bradley, who was famed for (a) making food metaphors at every rehearsal; (b) associating people’s faces with instrument, position, and many details of personal life but never their names; (c) making the orchestra a chocolate sheet cake with Smarties (Canadian Smarties candy, which are very much like M&Ms) after successful performances. The quotations are directly taken from life. I hope she is enjoying her retirement.

Orchestral Jabberwocky

‘Twas pre-performance, and the clarinets
Were squeaking like banshees out of hell;
The trumpets were out-shouting the cornets
And the piano was flat as well.

“Beware Mozart’s 40th, concertmaster!
The notes are easy, the expression tough!
Some parts you rush faster and faster;
Some parts you don’t go fast enough.”

He put the chinrest ‘neath his chin
And everyone tuned to his A;
So rested he with his violin
And waited for the violas to play.

And as the conductor moved her stick
The violas came in, right on time.
They weren’t too slow, they weren’t too quick;
They were, in fact, sublime.

And on they played; they never strayed
From the baton’s one two three four.
The audience began to dance
And called for an encore.

“Did you hear THAT? Wasn’t that great?
Hurray for, um, violin boy!
We’ll have to bake a chocolate cake!”
The conductor cried for joy.

‘Twas post-performance, and the clarinets
Squeaked again like banshees out of hell;
The trumpets were out-shouting the cornets
And the piano was flat as well.

— Tamara Vardomskaya, 2003

A Christmas Wish To A Worst Enemy

‘Tis the season to recall a “fun assignment” we had in Grade 9 English for Christmas — the assumption of ubiquitous landlines shows its age. I never did hand it in, but I sure had fun with it. (The final pastiche on “Have A Very Happy Holiday,” my friends and I had made up back in Grade 5 or 6.)

A Christmas Wish To A Worst Enemy

After you’ve dragged in the Christmas tree
(Outside it’s minus fifty-three)
And set it up all prettily
With all those glass balls and doilies too,
All fragile as Cinderella’s shoe,
And take a step back to the side
To admire it with a smile of pride
And have everyone round say “Ooh!”…
May it just wobble round and round
And finally come toppling down
Complete with a crashing sound
To wake all in the nearest town.

May every two minutes by the clock
Your phone ring in a tone designed to annoy
To find Great Aunt Melissa Crock
Exclaiming in great bliss and joy:
“Oh, you must hear about my find!
This little darling of delight!
To tell you I’ve got half a mind…
But no! You must wait for the sight!
It is just right for Uncle Joe
And Cousin Cindy! Can’t you see her?!…”
You let out a moan of anguish and woe
As you slam down the receiver
Only to be forced again to talk
In two more minutes by the clock.

When all of this seems to be over
May a dreadful howling ensue
And: “Oh no! Listen! Poor dear Rover!
Who’ll take him outside? Oh, you!”
And off you’ll trudge into the dark,
Into the blizzard, dark and drear,
With poor dear Rover to the park,
Enjoying some more Christmas cheer
While snow never seems to cease
(I told you it was minus fifty-three degrees.)

After Rover answered Nature’s call
And you crawl in, all frozen dumb,
May you think outside best of all
For now – COMPANY HAS COME!!!
You put up a valiant, losing fight
But you are forced to sing “Silent Night”
Accompanied, when it comes to that,
By Uncle Joe’s bass (four tones flat)
And Aunt Ann screaming like a scalded cat.

Dinner fills the house with its smell –
You’d rather face all Dante’s Hell.
The dining room’s adorned with Christmas cheer –
“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
“Turkey’s on the table, look!”
Yes, and Cousin Cindy was the cook,
It is therefore safest to stay
Fifteen kilometres away
But you have to eat it anyway
(You must eat all before you set
According to the rules of etiquette.)

By the time Aunt Melissa’s lemon tarts are seen
Your stomach feels like it has gangrene,
You turn a shade of bread-mould green,
You choke on the bowl of your spoon
And tumble to the floor in a swoon.

And when you’re lying in bed with an aching head –
I hope you realise, all the same,
That all this tormentation
Is all for calling me a name
Unfit for publication.

Have a very dreadful holiday,
May your home be filled with awfulness,
May your Christmas be a dreadful day
For everyone you hate and curse,
May your troubles be enormous ones,
May your faults be much worth mentioning,
May your New Year be the very worst it possibly could be!

— Tamara Vardomskaya, December 1999

Quoth The Raptor

Silly Verse Series, 3/?

This pastiche is more recent, composed for the second issue of the Ecdysis fanzine in 2014. I decided to be ridiculously silly and write a pastiche of Poe’s “The Raven” involving dinosaurs, time travel, Doctor Who references, and the opportunity to rhyme “Saurornitholestes,” which does not come every day.

Quoth The Raptor

Once upon the late Cretaceous, when the theropods predaceous
Roamed the plains of vast Alberta for delicious hadrosaur,
I was bending, groaning, drubbing, but my time machine was stubborn,
And despite all of my rubbing, it would not return to war.
I was growing quite concerned now, for I feared tyrannosaur.
Only that, and nothing more.

Ah, distinctly I’m recalling, it was spring, the rain was falling,
The corythosaurs were calling to the mates they would adore.
Eagerly I wished repair, but alas, I lacked a spare
Flux capacitor to bear the load of going yet before.
“Cursed piece of junk!” I glared. “Will I feed a carnosaur,
Or be choked by meteor?”

As I nodded, nearly croaking, suddenly I heard a knocking
As of some strong avian critter rapping on my Tardis door.
“Surely,” sighed I, “surely best is it’s some Saurornitholestes,
For velociraptors rest in peace in Asia, long before.
Bird or beast, I dare not test this wall’s resistance any more.
Grab my gun; unbar the door.”

Open then I flung the shutter when, with many a flirt and flutter
In stepped a dromaeosaurid of the Mesozoic of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not an instant stopped or stayed he,
But, with mien of lord or lady, strode up to me, where he bore
Dragging in his terrible-clawed foot, — a flux capacitor!
I was mute for minutes more.

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to bear me gifts so plainly
Which had no possible place in Mesozoic days of yore.
Was there some ill-starred Time Master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster to this time and to this shore?
To help my posthuman kindred, if they live and aid implore,
Or to flee the carnosaurs?

The door shut; and yet this raptor bore no ill towards its captor
When I asked it, “Worthy theropod, whence came you to this door?”
Trying to process this strange vision, I was plagued with indecision —
Was it stolen from my humans, this advanced device it bore?
But I heard an altered Anglic voice from the dromaeosaur:
Quoth he, “6034.”

“Far into your future ages, dino uplift all the rage is.
I’m a time traveller too, though you’re three thousand years before.
I came back for my kin’s traces, to bring them to the sentient races
And my time machine is parked over on yonder river’s shore —
And your primitive machine could use my spare capacitor…
So I brought one to your door.”

Much I marvelled at this greeting and the wonder of this meeting.
But there was no time to lose, this time when yonder treads tyrannosaur.
With Saurornitholestes lifting, my machine got humming swiftly,
Though he muttered at how primitive I and my people were.
I asked how could I return his loan of flux capacitor.
Quoth he, “Time cap—“
Then, a roar.

The tyrannosaurs were here, and they had no sense of fear,
But believed that we should show respect to elders ever more.
Promptly, then, I floored the pedal, with no thought to pause or settle — And ignoring that the setting was to 6034.
I awoke. Above me waiting, smiling, my dromaeosaur.
’Twas his time. I was of yore.

The uplifted beasts are flitting; in the Tardis queue I’m sitting,
But ’tis years before I get my flight to 3054.
I try being staunch and stoic; but I miss the Mesozoic
Where the culture shock was lesser, and the simple beasts were more.
Six millennia of practice making bureaucracy a chore —
I’d rather face a tyrannosaur.

—Tamara Vardomskaya, February 2014

Ode To The Sine Wave

Silly Verse Series, 2/?

Due to demand, I will pull silly poems I have written up from my archives. This one was composed in Grade 11, while helping a friend with a frustrating math unit project on sine waves (which involved attempting to plot them in Excel, and getting nonsense due to some trick of Microsoft). I went and wrote a hyperbolic ode. I am still fond of it.

Ode to the Sine Wave

Glorious sine wave! Thou art the most fair
Of functions engraved on the Cartesian plane,
Reminding all those in the Trough of Despair
That the Crest of Good Fortune will uplift us again.

Your rule is imposed on the waves of the ocean,
The moon and the galaxies up in the sky,
History, money, the heights of emotion –
They all salute you as they cycle by.

Blessed is thy look and name to our reverent lip and eye
And only immortal hands may frame thy fearful symmetry.
Great are by thy beauty graced axes where you dwell,
Even when you are ravaged and defaced by the brutish Excel,

With grace you entwine
The horizontal line,
At no point do you end and at no point begin.
Glory be thine,
Function serpentine,
Wave of the sine,
Image of SIN!

— Tamara Vardomskaya, March 2002.

God Rest You Merry, Math Teachers

Silly Verse Series, 1/?

I happened to find a document of my old poetry, from late elementary school to early university, and convert it from WordPerfect to cruder and less refined programs that modern computers can actually read. My love poetry of the time shall never again see the light of day, but I am still rather fond of the silly verse. Here is a pastiche appropriate to the season (both the Christmas season and the exam season), inspired by what “let nothing you dismay” would actually mean, and by the events of my high school years up to autumn of grade 12. (It ended up being published in the yearbook of my high school graduating year.)

All examples are based on real events.

***

God rest you merry, math teachers, let nothing you dismay,
For you have witnessed all the horrors one can write or say,
From “seven times seven is fourteen” to limits gone astray…
All you ask is for equations to be true and defined,
And for all the equals signs to be aligned.

God rest you merry, English teachers, let nothing you dismay,
For you have witnessed all the horrors one can write or say,
In rules of grammar and common sense that students disobey…
All you ask is that commas go in their proper place
And that Hamlet’s not misquoted to his face.

God rest you merry, language teachers, let nothing you dismay,
For you have witnessed all the horrors one can write or say,
From misspellings to brutal forms of passé composé
All you ask is not to use vocab whose meaning is in doubt
And to at least get what the story was about.

God rest you, social science teachers, let nothing you dismay,
For you have witnessed all the horrors one can write or say,
From “where is the Atlantic?” to a thesis-less essay…
All you ask is for a clear, logical and balanced view
And for all the facts to be confirmed and true.

God rest you merry, science teachers, let nothing you dismay,
For you have witnessed all the horrors one can write or say,
From graphs on hand-drawn graph paper to vectors the wrong way…
All you ask is for the sig figs to be valid and trim
And for no one in the lab to lose a limb.

God rest you merry, arts teachers, let nothing you dismay,
For you have witnessed all the horrors one can draw or play,
From art not worth the paper to A-flat instead of A…
All you ask is that they practice, — just a little, is that fair?
All you ask is that they work and try and care.

God rest you merry, high school students, let nothing you dismay,
For you have witnessed tortures one can’t even begin to say,
And four tests and a summative set all on the same day…
All you ask is for the answers to be marked fair and right
And for at least eight hours of sleep a night.

– Tamara Vardomskaya, December 2002.

“On The Epigraph to Eugene Onegin” – V. I. Arnold

Samir Khan asked me for a translation of this short paper by the mathematician Vladimir Arnold (1937-2010) on his foray into literary studies: http://www.math.nsc.ru/LBRT/g2/english/ssk/arnold_sll.pdf

News of the [Russian] Academy of Sciences, Literature and Language Series, vol. 56, no. 2, p. 63.

On the Epigraph To Eugene Onegin
V. I. Arnold, 1997

The French epigraph to “Eugene Onegin” goes like this:

Pétri de vanité il avait encore plus de cette espèce d’orgueil qui fait avouer avec la même indifférence les bonnes comme les mauvaises actions, suite d’un sentiment de supériorité, peut-être imaginaire.
Tiré d’une lettre particulière

That is,

Steeped in vanity, he had even more of the kind of pride that makes one acknowledge one’s good and evil actions alike with the same indifference, out of a sense of superiority, perhaps an imaginary one.
– From a private letter

It’s generally considered that this “private letter” is a hoax of Pushkin’s, who made up the epigraph text himself.

Recently re-reading “Dangerous Liaisons” by Choderlos de Laclos, I came across the following line (in letter L [50] from Madame de Tourvel to Vicomte de Valmont):

“Je n’ai pas la vanité qu’on reproche à mon sexe ; j’ai encore moins cette fausse modestie qui n’est qu’un raffinement de l’orgueil…

I do not have the vanity my sex is accused of; I have even less of that false modesty which is nothing but a refined form of pride…”

I was struck by the resemblance to Pushkin’s epigraph. I thought that Pushkin changed “I do not have” to “he had,” perhaps unconsciously bringing the phrase closer to describing himself than Onegin, in a line from a novel “in which reflected was the day / and modern man was there portrayed / clearly enough […] with his amoral mind / churning at empty action’s grind…”*

Tending to hoaxes, he could have tried even more to conceal a borrowing from a novel about which he’d said elsewhere, “a mother would tell her daughter to spit on this book” — out of a sense of caution, perhaps a justified one. A “modest author,” as Pushkin called himself, would let himself translate just half of the “glorious verse” or to delude the reader with hints understandable only to insiders (“I’ve heard they want to force the ladies…”, etc.*)

Someone among Pushkin’s friends and contemporaries could have known the source of the epigraph.

Pushkin’s borrowings (“Faust,” “Angelo”**, Tatiana’s letter — in the West, they think the whole of “Onegin” is a re-working of Byron’s “Don Juan”) are never exact translations. The epigraph’s text resembles the text of Madame de Tourvel’s letter no less than does Pushkin’s “Novel in Letters,” evidently inspired by “Dangerous Liaisons” (although not just by them).

Not being a literary scholar by profession (and even less a Pushkinist), but a mathematician, in my work I must constantly depend not on proofs, but on sensations, guesses and hypotheses, moving from one fact to another by means of the kind of insight that lets one see commonalities in things that an observer may think completely unrelated.

A correct guess goes hand-in-hand with a feeling that further proofs would be completely useless, an almost painful feeling that’s unforgettable, but difficult to convey.

Above, I’ve tried to make the reader relive the sense of having seen this already, similar to what I felt on reading Letter L of “Dangerous Liaisons.”

Translator’s Notes:

I’m referring to “Madame de Tourvel” following the English translation rather than “the presidentess Tourvel” (la Présidente Tourvel) as she is called both in the original French and in the Russian translation.

*Arnold was almost certainly working from memory, and this is actually a slight misquotation from Chapter 7, Verse XXII of Eugene Onegin: the original says that Onegin, though mostly tired of reading, had kept “two or three novels / in which [plural; Arnold has the singular] reflected was the day / And modern man was there portrayed / Clearly enough, with his amoral soul / Self-loving and dry / Infinitely given to fancy, / With his infuriated mind / Churning at empty action’s grind.” (I’m not going to try to make it all rhyme and scan.)

** This is also a slight misquotation of Chapter 3, Verse XXVII: “I know, they want to force the ladies to read in Russian. Horrors, true! Could you imagine ladies holding / ‘The Well-Intentioned’ in their hands?” — in the section when he explains why Tatiana wrote her letter to Onegin in French, Pushkin mocks the poor Russian grammar of contemporary noblewomen, as well as putting in a dig (according to his own footnotes) against a notoriously poorly-edited magazine of the time.

(I Googled the original text in both cases, and found that both of these are misquotations, but very common ones.)

*** Pushkin’s re-write of “Measure for Measure”