“Alone, rising from the level of the plain, and appearing lost in the open country, the two steeples of Martinville ascended toward the sky. Soon we saw three: wheeling around boldly to position itself opposite them, the laggard steeple of Vieuxvicq had come along to join them. . . . Then the steeple of Vieuxvicq moved away, receded into the distance and the steeples of Martinville remained alone. . . . We continued on our way; we had already left Martinville a little while before, and the village, after accompanying us for a few seconds, had disappeared, when, lingering alone of the horizon to watch us flee, its steeples and that of Vieuxvicq still waved good-bye with their sunlit tops. At times one of them would draw aside so that the other two could glimpse us again for an instant; but the road changed direction, they swung around in the light like three golden pivots and disappeared from my gaze. But a little later, when we were already close to Combray, and the sun had set, I caught sight of them one last time from very far away, seeming now no more than three flowers painted on the day above the low line of fields. . . . and while we moved off at a gallop, I saw them timidly seek their way and, after some awkward stumbling of their noble silhouettes, press against one another, slip behind one another, now forming, against the still pink sky, no more than a single black shape, charming and resigned, and fade away into the night.”
–Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, “Combray”
Sidewalk blocks move fast,
Being about the length of a stride,
And to the right and left, grass blurs by,
But a tree 20 feet away moves slower,
And a tree 20 feet beyond even slower,
The first tree moving to eclipse the other,
Which moves then from the left to the right,
As roofs, steeples, other trees further off
Move the slowest of all, eventually eclipsed
By even the second tree.
It’s all illusion, of course–
Everything moves at the same pace,
Which is to say, nothing moves at all, but you–
You are the only thing moving
(except that everything is moving, the earth spinning,
but that’s another story).
A firetruck approaches from behind,
All those tightly compressed sound waves wailing,
Or making a trick like wailing,
And when the truck passes you,
The sounds quickly blurs and fades
As you are left in a wake of wider and wider waves,
Time is the same, as events nearer to us speed by,
And events in the past are frozen in mind, eye, and time.
You can’t change them, and as soon as the near events pass,
You can’t change them, either. It’s all past.
There must be a formula for this, I think,
Like when I learned that the ratio of sides in a 30-60-90 triangle
is 1x to 2x to the square-roof-of-three x.
I spent a summer once measuring the height of trees with this formula,
A string dropped from a branch and held to the ground
To form the 60 degree angle, and the height of the tree
Was then exactly twice the distance of that angle of string and ground
To the trunk.
Sure, I could have just dropped the string straight down,
Then measured the string, but where’s the fun in that?
This is how my brain works. This is why I loved geometry.
This is why I still say that, in terms of learning to write.
Taking Geometry was the best thing I ever did.
Euclid, Pythagoras, Archimedes–they figured it out,
Did the calculations, wrote the proofs, all while moving
–at their own pace–
With their own pasts frozen on the horizon,
Superstition, magic, wild guesses to make sense of it all.
They ended all that because they knew,
As surely as a sailor knows that following a particular star will move him “north,”
That time and sound and light and space
Don’t move with us, but simply seem to move with us,
And faster, too,
The closer they are to ourselves.