Science poetry-or verse that is just informative about nature

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Science poetry--or verse that is just informative about nature

In another thread, Mormonator mentioned poetry about particle physics. This reminds me of John Updike's Neutrino poem and Franck Wilczek's Virtual Particles sonnet.
And Borges sonnet about 4D spacetime. Maybe we should try collecting some samples of poetry about science and about the deeper vision of nature which it provides.

the two are different. science is a human activity, a tradition, a community with customs and standards etc. one could have verse about scientists and about that activity.

but the vision that science helps us get is something else. it's different from the activity of science and more emotional. Feynman talked about enjoying a sunset and at the same time understanding what underlies the colors. or enjoying both the blue sky along with understanding why the sky is blue--how the air can preferentially scatter blue light more than red. being at the beach watching the waves and also thinking the molecules of water. that isn't so much science as an extension of a love of nature. or the knowledge of cosmology that deepens appreciation of the night sky.

so where are the poems about this? they are rare, I guess. there is not very much science verse of any kind, and what there is is mostly LIGHT verse----witty humor. So let's collect whatever we can find and not be picky! Light verse is fine---it teaches something too. Here's an example by Frank Wilczek:


VIRTUAL PARTICLES, by Frank Wilczek

Beware of thinking nothing's there.
Remove all you can, despite your care
Behind remains a restless seething
Of mindless clones beyond conceiving.

They come in a wink, they dance about,
Whatever they touch is seized by doubt:
What am I doing here? What should I weigh?
Such thoughts often lead to rapid decay.

Fear not! The terminology's misleading;
Decay is virtual particle breeding
Their ferment, though mindless, does serve noble ends:
Those clones, when exchanged, make a bond between friends.

To be or not? The choice seems clear enough,
But Hamlet vacillated. So does this stuff.


This sonnet is recited by Wilczek in the online video lecture The Universe is a Strange Place
to find it go here:
http://web.mit.edu/physics/facultyandstaff/faculty/frank_wilczek.html
and scroll down to "View the Lectures" where there is a list of his video lectures
and also you can find it in his book Fantastic Realities:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/9812566554/?tag=pfamazon01-20&tag=pfamazon01-20


here's another rhymed verse thread
https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=244079
it has some other samples of science-related poetry
 
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  • #2
marcus
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the best humorous physics poem I know is Cosmic Gall by John Updike, about neutrinos
this is typed from memory and so you need to consult his Collected Poems at the library
to be sure of every word and punctuation mark. but this is the gist:

Neutrinos are of size quite small,
No charge, and hardly any mass.
They scarcely interact at all:
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dustmaids down a drafty hall
Or photons through a sheet of glass.
They snub the most exquisite gas,
Ignore the most substantial wall,
Cold-shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall,
And scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me! Like tall
And painless guillotines, they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
At night, they enter at Nepal
And pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed--you call
It wonderful; I call it crass.

for more goodies, here's his collected poems
https://www.amazon.com/dp/0679762043/?tag=pfamazon01-20&tag=pfamazon01-20
Updike is remarkable. If I felt qualified to judge I'd call him the most accomplished stylist in America
based on his short stories and novels, a kind of New Yorker paragon. We are lucky to have
a physics poem from him---actually he has several but this will do for a sample.
 
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  • #3
marcus
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Frank Wilczek has this quatrain about gluons

GLUON RAP by Franck Wilczek

O! O! O! You eight colorful guys!
You won't let quarks materialize.
You're tricky, but now we realize
You hold together our nucleis.

To find other poems by Wilczek, and to make sure the punctuation is right here, look in his 49 essays book
called Fantastic Realities
https://www.amazon.com/dp/9812566554/?tag=pfamazon01-20&tag=pfamazon01-20

I guess nucleis is the superplural of nucleus.
Several would be nuclei, the ordinary plural form,
but a whole lot more would be nucleis.
or even nucleizes.
 
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  • #4
wolram
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I love the second one.
 
  • #5
marcus
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I love the second one.
Yeah, the one by Updike. He is a master writer and a very smart guy to boot. I'd say you have good taste in poetry :biggrin:.

I'm hoping a few other people will find physics poems to add on here.
 
  • #6


Here is a short haiku I have written that I will share. I was frustrated at the time by my inability to nail down a good mass for the sigma meson in a meson-tetraquark-glueball mixing scheme, and also by the overabundance of spurion and a wide range of experimental data that did not agree well on it either. I don't know if it is very good, but my feelings of frustration were vented this way. So, here it is, titled "Light sigma Meson"

"Light sigma Meson"

In the cold snowscape,
The white rabbit hides secure.
How you elude me!
 
  • #7
marcus
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This is a prize (surprise) haiku.
I am not a regular fan of that form--I prefer western rhymed metrical lyric, as a rule.
But was delighted with this one, because it has the surprise change from serene stillness
to an impatient outburst
I think a classic virtue of the haiku form is sudden change, an epigrammatic ambush.

In yours, a tranquil image is presented as something restful and calming to contemplate
and then inverted: previously admired blankness is now cause for aggravation.
 
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  • #8


This is a prize (surprise) haiku.
I am not a regular fan of that form--I prefer western rhymed metrical lyric, as a rule.
But was delighted with this one, because it has the surprise change from serene stillness
to an impatient outburst
I think a classic virtue of the haiku form is sudden change, an epigrammatic ambush.

In yours, a tranquil image is presented as something restful and calming to contemplate
and then inverted: previously admired blankness is now cause for aggravation.
I am glad you liked it, marcus. I would also add that my selection of a winter theme was not by chance. Since cold, nonpertrubative QCD is involved, and the process is low energy, I picked a winter theme. The haiku does require a season to be selected, traditionally.
 
  • #9
marcus
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I am glad you liked it, marcus. I would also add that my selection of a winter theme was not by chance. Since cold, nonpertrubative QCD is involved, and the process is low energy, I picked a winter theme. The haiku does require a season to be selected, traditionally.
It's interesting how you think multilevel like a poet as well as a particle physicist. If you have some other samples of physics poetry that you think would make a fitting companion to that haiku, please post. It would be nice to see some other work. I like your haiku so I'm going to copy it here to keep it in immediate sight.

"Light sigma Meson"

In the cold snowscape,
The white rabbit hides secure.
How you elude me!
 
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  • #10


It's interesting how you think multilevel like a poet as well as a particle physicist. If you have some other samples of physics poetry that you think would make a fitting companion to that haiku, please post. It would be nice to see some other work. I like your haiku so I'm going to copy it here to keep it in immediate sight.
Thanks... I try. I do have one other that I find worthy of posting, but it is not any traditional form. It is completely modernistic free verse, technically speaking... I was mostly thinking of the new linear accelerator that will be coming, but also a tribute to linear accelerators in general, so I called it "LINAC" as a general reference to linear accelerators. It is by no means technically accurate (I made this years ago and hadn't been to an accelerator facility yet), but gives a general feeling which is, I think, more important.

"LINAC"

Deep underground lays a massive tunnel
A tube of giant proportion lined with magnets
Dynamos whir
Static builds
Scientists line up in the control room
To watch the injector readout
Suddenly the positrons accelerate down the track
Hurtling toward their impending doom
While opposite them, the electrons speed onward
To meet them half-way.
The beams collide
As positrons and electrons meet,
Showering the detectors with photons
Like a gentle spring mist
Somewhere within a new breed of particle
Lurks, hidden and obscured
Seen only as the presence of charged pions
Nothing but silence and darkness in the tunnel
No color except black and no sound
Except for the whirring dynamos.
In the control room
A claxon chimes
Everyone looks at the monitor
All falls still and calm except for
Little green lines on the display
Little green lines to show where things went
Like a mess of thin spaghetti all over the screen
They all congratulate each other on a fine run
And then go home for the night
Tomorrow they will learn what happened
In that silent dark tunnel
 
  • #11
marcus
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A possible source of science-related rhymed metric verse:
http://www.poemhunter.com/james-clerk-maxwell/poems/page-1/
James Clerk Maxwell one of the greatest scientists of the 19th C, maybe all time, was also an amateur versifier.

He has a poem in honor of Arthur Cayley. They were collecting contributions to commission a portrait painter, Dickenson, to do a painting of Cayley for the university collection, so Maxwell wrote:


To the Committee of the Cayley Portrait Fund

O wretched race of men, to space confined!
What honour can ye pay to him, whose mind
To that which lies beyond hath penetrated?
The symbols he hath formed shall sound his praise,
And lead him on through unimagined ways
To conquests new, in worlds not yet created.

...

March on, symbolic host! with step sublime,
Up to the flaming bounds of Space and Time!
There pause, until by Dickenson depicted,
In two dimensions, we the form may trace
Of him whose soul, too large for vulgar space,
In n dimensions flourished unrestricted.

James Clerk Maxwell
 
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  • #12
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Marcus, I just love poetry. It's always a pleasure meeting a man that likes poetry as much as you do. Thank you.:biggrin: I hope you won't mind me placing a poem here about *human nature*.

I have a fondness for Galway Kinnell since I’m a woman. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him. This is my favorite poem. Ahhhhh, so loverly.:!!)

Galway Kinnell, Poetry, “Feathering,” The New Yorker, January 24, 2000, p. 54

FEATHERING

Many heads before mine have waked
in the dark on that old pillow
and lain there, awake, wondering
at the strangeness within themselves
they had been part of, a moment ago.

She has ripped out the stitches
at one end and stands on the stone table
in the garden holding the pillow like a sack
and plunges her fingers in and extracts
a thick handful of breast feathers.

A few of them snow toward the ground,
and immediately tree swallows appear.
She raises the arm holding the down
straight up in the air, and stands there, like a mom

at a school crossing, or a god
of seedtime about to release
a stream of bits of plenitude,
or herself, long ago at a pond, chumming
for sunfish with bread crumbs.

At the lift of a breeze, her fist
loosens and parcels out a slow
upward tumble of dozens of puffs
near zero on the scale of materiality.
More swallows loop and dive about her.

Now, with a flap, one picks up speed
and streaks in at a feather, misses, stops,
twists and streaks back and this time
snaps its beak shut on it, and soars,
and banks back to where its nest box is.

A few more flurries, and she ties off
the pillow, ending for today
the game they make of it when she’s there,
the imperative to feather one’s nest
come down from the Pliocene.

At the window, where I’ve been watching
through bird glasses, I can see
a graceful awkwardness in her walk,
as if she’s tipsy, or not sure
where she’s been, and yet is deeply happy.

Sometimes when we’re out at dinner and a dim mood
from the day persists in me, she flies up and
disappears a moment, plucking out of the air
somewhere this or that amusement or comfort
and, back again, lays it in our dinner talk.

Once, when it was time to leave, she stood up
and, scanning about the restaurant for the restroom,
went up as if on tiptoe, like the upland plover.
In the taxi we kissed a mint from the desk
from my mouth to hers, like cedar waxwings.

Later, when I padded up to bed,
I found her dropped off, the bedside lamp
still on, an open book face down over her heart;
and though my plod felt quiet
as a cat’s footfalls, her eyes at once opened.

And when I climbed into our bed and crept
toward the side of it lined with the down comforter
and the warmth and softness of herself,
she took me in her arms and sang to me
in high, soft, clear, wild notes.
 
  • #13
fuzzyfelt
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Good to see James Clerk Maxwell's poetry here, too.
 
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  • #14
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ENTROPIC HOPE

Dr. Smart, with sweeping dioramics,
summarized theory accepted today:
“The first few laws of thermodynamics:
You can’t win, break even or get away.

“No matter speed of acceleration,
the universe runs down since the Big Bang.
The fate of order is dissipation.
The spring, once sprung, can’t be re-sprung. It sprang.

“A system needs energy to survive
or it’s unable to do work, of course.
On galactic scales or like us, alive,
complexity is the result of force.

“And though the second law says we can’t win,
it’s only ‘law’ to a statistician.”
 
  • #15
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RARIFIED

The physicist had reached the end
of equations he’d worked for years.
Excited, he called an old friend,
to invite him out for some beers.
When asked about the occasion,
he smugly announced he’d worked-out
the quark confinement equation,
beyond any shadow of doubt.
For strings of ev’ry dimension
his elegant math had held true;
no one could argue dissension!
When there was no response, he knew,
informed by silence on the phone,
how far he’d come to be alone
 
  • #16
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STRINGS ATTACHED

Physicists foresee a utopia
(once they squint through micro-myopia)
where all of the forces of nature should
become unified and be understood.
Even in science, letting go is hard,
and notions are the hardest to divorce,
but, to reach there, they’ll have to discard
their classical point-particles of force.

While Newton works large-scale, his physics fail,
and even Einstein’s theories can’t subsist,
when applied to the sub-atomic scale.
The answers they produce just can’t exist.

Particle physics, in quantum foam, sank,
when its researchers walked the length of Planck.
 
  • #17
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VISIONARY

He looked into the lens-system and saw
an unimaginably small world grow.
Now does this image in history draw
from van Leeuwenhoek or Galileo?
Through lenses both passed to another realm
of being, since their broadened reference frame
allowed them visions that could overwhelm.
Then for everyone nothing stayed the same.
The vaster one’s view the clearer things get,
of cosmic, subatomic, even time,
and, while the masses may first be upset,
brought to some summit that they didn’t climb,
it’s crucial so all the ingenious might
be informed of the remarkable sight.
 
  • #18
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SURVIVAL OF THE WITLESS

When fire, water, earth and air were thought
to be the elementals that composed
all matter, folks did not become distraught
at what avant-garde chemists then proposed.

Most understand that the Earth is a sphere
(with only one natural satellite);
no matter where folks sail they do not fear
they’ll reach the edge and fall into the night.

Most even have embraced that time’s not fixed
and have adopted relativity.
So why should folks’ beliefs remain so mixed
about evolution’s activity?

Abundant evidence supports this view,
yet institutions argue it’s not true.
 
  • #19
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ILLUMINATED

The physicists in their studies transcribe
formulae that define reality.
Theirs is a cloistered yet secular tribe
that daily deals with strict duality.
Foremost, their math must be made to agree,
precisely, with all that can be observed,
though, often, what we are able to see
can misinform; they must not be unnerved.
To gain acceptance, they are overseen
by peers and the harshly economic,
while pressured to find covenant between
the classical and the subatomic,
and, though they cannot see their superstring,
keep faith that it will answer everything.
 
  • #20
marcus
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I liked some of these, poeteye. Thanks for posting them!
 
  • #21
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Hi, I love poetry... all these poems are great!!! At the time I gained my interest in physics, I attended a particular lecture... and the lecturer brought up the last verses of a beautiful sonet by Francisco de Quevedo, titled "Amor Constante Más Allá De La Muerte" ("Love Constant Beyond Death"):

Alma a quien todo un dios prisión ha sido,
Venas que humor a tanto fuego han dado,
Medulas que han gloriosamente ardido:

Su cuerpo dejará, no su cuidado;
Serán ceniza, mas tendrá sentido;
Polvo serán, mas polvo enamorado.


translated:

My soul, whom a god made his prison of,
my veins, which a liquid humour fed to fire,
my marrows, which have gloriously flamed,

will leave their body, never their desire;
they will be ash but ash in feeling framed;
they will be dust but will be dust in love.


The whole piece can be resumed in the last three lines; particularly, to the last asseveration; AND even more to the last words: dust in love.

edit: i forgot to add, my point is, it made me think about the stars: star dust, the universe... the particles we are made of. They may or may not have anything intrinsically... sentient to it. But, perhaps in life, love, poetry... it is indeed, dust in love.

Later, at another lecture an anthropologist made a remark about life, science: The enigma can be solved, not the mystery.

:approve: Yeah, I love this, makes me feel good about life.
 
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  • #22
marcus
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Hi, I love poetry... all these poems are great!!! At the time I gained my interest in physics, I attended a particular lecture... and the lecturer brought up the last verses of a beautiful sonet by Francisco de Quevedo, titled "Amor Constante Más Allá De La Muerte" ("Love Constant Beyond Death"):

Alma a quien todo un dios prisión ha sido,
Venas que humor a tanto fuego han dado,
Medulas que han gloriosamente ardido:

Su cuerpo dejará, no su cuidado;
Serán ceniza, mas tendrá sentido;
Polvo serán, mas polvo enamorado.


translated:

My soul, whom a god made his prison of,
my veins, which a liquid humour fed to fire,
my marrows, which have gloriously flamed,

will leave their body, never their desire;
they will be ash but ash in feeling framed;
they will be dust but will be dust in love.


...
I think that is a very good rhymed verse translation. Does it happen to be your own? This is not especially important, but I think I might appreciate seeing more of the work of that translator. Good verse translation is uncommon. It must be both true and natural.

For comparison here is an alternative which I found at many many websites. It would seem to be the most common English version:

Soul by no less than a god confined,
veins that such a blazing fire have fueled,
marrow to its glorious flames consigned:

the body will abandon, not its woes;
will soon be ash, but ash that is aware;
dust will be, but dust whose love still grows.​

Your last line ("dust in love") is, I think, stronger and more natural (than the other about "love still grows"). I would be more apt to say it than the other and happier to hear it spoken.

There is a trivial problem---I suspect that your translation misses a TRIPLE PARALLELISM that Quevedo expected his listener to hear.
Like "Tom, Dick, and Harry are selfish, fat, and silly [respectively]."

To illustrate by temporarily messing with your trans, :

My soul...,
my veins...,
my marrow,
+
will leave its body, never its desire;
will be ash but ash in feeling framed;
will be dust but will be dust in love.
____________________________________

My soul will leave its body, never its desire;
my veins will be ash but ash in feeling framed;
my marrow will be dust but will be dust in love.


Do you think soul, veins, marrow all collectively do the same thing and end up the same way? Or is there a parallel structure with the soul doing its thing and the veins and marrow doing something else which is appropriate to them?

Actually I'm more curious to know if you made the translation. Marrow is self-plural in English, like deer and fish. Or more exactly, blood. One has in one's body a supply of blood, one does not have bloods.
 
  • #23
marcus
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Mariana,
I'm not a spanish speaker, check me on this. I want to make an accurate literal of the Quevedo sestet.

Alma a quien todo un dios prisión ha sido,
Venas que humor a tanto fuego han dado,
Medulas que han gloriosamente ardido:

Su cuerpo dejará, no su cuidado;
Serán ceniza, mas tendrá sentido;
Polvo serán, mas polvo enamorado.

My soul, to which the whole god Amor has been a prison (my soul imprisoned in all Love itself);
My veins which gave [a refined distillate] fuel to so much fire;
My marrow which has gloriously burned:

Will leave its body, [but] not its care/concern/preoccupation [= its obsession];
Will be ash, but [the ash] will retain feeling;
Will be dust, but dust [entirely head-over-heels] in love.

I think of "humor" as a kind of clear-burning fuel like alcohol, or highly purified gasoline. People have these essences in them which determine their passions and to some extent their behavior. Quevedo I think lived around Shakespeare time, maybe 1600? I'm trying to think what "humor" meant to him. A fluid substance that helps to explain a person's character, impulses, psychology.
 
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  • #24
atyy
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Actually I'm more curious to know if you made the translation. Marrow is self-plural in English, like deer and fish. Or more exactly, blood. One has in one's body a supply of blood, one does not have bloods.
I liked the sound of "marrows" better, so I looked in the OED to vindicate my wrong taste!

"1659 MILTON Considerations touching Hirelings 137 To how little purpose are all those piles of sermons,..bodies and marrows of divinity, besides all other sciences, in our English tongue."
 
  • #25
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Maria,
I'm not a spanish speaker, check me on this. I want to make an accurate literal of the Quevedo sestet.

Alma a quien todo un dios prisión ha sido,
Venas que humor a tanto fuego han dado,
Medulas que han gloriosamente ardido:

Su cuerpo dejará, no su cuidado;
Serán ceniza, mas tendrá sentido;
Polvo serán, mas polvo enamorado.

My soul, to which the whole god Amor has been a prison (my soul imprisoned in all Love itself);
My veins which gave [a refined distillate "high octane"] fuel to so much fire;
My marrow which has gloriously burned:

Will leave its body, [but] not its care/concern/preoccupation [= its obsession];
Will be ash, but [the ash] will retain feeling;
Will be dust, but dust [entirely head-over-heels] in love.

I think of "humor" as a kind of clear-burning fuel like alcohol, or highly purified gasoline. People have these essences in them which determine their passions and to some extent their behavior. Quevedo I think lived around Shakespeare time, maybe 1600? I'm trying to think what "humor" meant to him. A fluid substance that helps to explain a person's character, impulses, psychology.
Yes! Exactly! To my taste, that's a better translation. The words used in spanish are so carefully placed: lyrically, for its syllabus, the cadence, and most important, to powerfully accentuate certain elements.

The translated first part:

Cerrar podrá mis ojos la postrera
sombra que me llevare el blanco día,
y podrá desatar esta alma mía
hora a su afán ansioso lisonjera;

mas no, de esotra parte, en la ribera,
dejará la memoria, en donde ardía:
nadar sabe mi llama la agua fría,
y perder el respeto a ley severa.


would go (as literal as possible):

Shut may my eyes be by the latter <-- many feel the urge to place a comma here
Shadow that will bring me the white day,
And thus untie this soul of mine
An hour, from its [death’s] anxious flattery;

But not, from that place, in the riverside,
Will leave the memory, in which it burnt:
To swim knows my flame the cold water,
And to lose respect to law’s severity.


As you correctly pointed, Quevedo draws a lot of symmetries:

The first quartet recognizes the faith which we will face: death.

In the second quartet he warns: the "severe law" is not death, but forgetting, that is, to leave its memory in the terrenal world and not be able to take it to that other place.

Then, he sentences(as in judge would):

Alma... su cuerpo dejará, no su cuidado

Its my personal opinion theres a good duality played for genders; it can refer to "su"(its) [the deceased's] body. And the second "its" [care] "caring towards the lover".

Part of the complexity of the poem is on the purity of the concepts...

fire: the flame/flama, to burn/arder, fire/fuego, ash/ceniza, water/agua.
death: “the latter”/postrera, shadow/sombra, white day/día blanco, ash/ceniza, dust/polvo.

Also, a recurring tool is the (i dont know if the term is correct) anastrophe, to alter the regular order of the words. Sort of how Yoda speaks.

Do you think soul, veins, marrow all collectively do the same thing and end up the same way? Or is there a parallel structure with the soul doing its thing and the veins and marrow doing something else which is appropriate to them?
I do believe they have their proper way of "becoming dust", the soul leaves the body, leaving it to dust; veins fed to a flame; the marrow gloriously burnt.

As to the humor, it puzzles me, I, too, see it like a clear-fuel that feeds the fire. I think both in english and spanish it refers both to "mood" or "character" that kind of semantics. Also, in ancient times it refered to the vital liquids in a human organism, so, maybe from this definition it derives.
 
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