The Delimitation of the Inﬁnite
Meditations on Poetry
I continue to believe that I shall recover, that I may recover. I slept very well. No dreams or any other symptoms of disease. Dear 0-90 will come tomorrow. Everything will again be simple, regular, and limited like a circle. I am not afraid of this word “limited.” The work of the highest faculty of man, judgment, is always directed toward the constant limiting of the inﬁnite, toward the breaking up of the inﬁnite into comfortably digestible portions, differentials. This is what gives divine beauty to my vocation, mathematics. And it is exactly this beauty that that other female lacks. But this last thought of mine is only an accidental mental association.
These thoughts swarmed in my mind while I was listening to the regular, rhythmic sounds of the underground railway. Silently I followed the rhythm of its wheels and recited to myself R-’s verses (from the book which he gave me yesterday), and I felt that behind me someone was leaning over my shoulder and looking at the open pages. I did not turn around but with the corner of my eye I noticed pink ears, spread like wings, the double-curved . . . like the letter. . . . It was he, but I did not want to disturb him. I feigned not to have noticed him. How he came in, I do not know. I did not see him when I got into the car.
This incident, insigniﬁcant in itself, had an especially good effect upon me; it invigorated me, I should say. It is pleasant to feel that somebody’s penetrating eye is watching you from behind your shoulder, lovingly guarding you from making the most minute mistake, from the most minute incorrect step. It may seem to you too sentimental, but I do see in all this the materialization of the dream of the ancients about a Guardian Angel. How many things, of which the ancients had only dreams, are materialized in our life!
At the moment when I became aware of the presence of the Guardian Angel behind me, I was enjoying a poem entitled “Happiness.” I think I am not mistaken when I say that it is a piece of rare beauty and depth of thought. These are the ﬁrst four lines:
Two times two — eternal lovers;
Inseparable in passion four . . .
Most ﬂaming lovers in the world,
Eternally welded, two times two.
And the rest is in the same vein: on the wisdom and the eternal happiness of the multiplication table. Every poet is inevitably a Columbus. America existed before Columbus for ages, but only Columbus found it. The multiplication table existed before R-13 for ages, but only 13-13 could ﬁnd in the virginal forest of ﬁgures a new Eldorado. Is it not true? Is there any happiness more wise and cloudless in this wonderful world? Steel may rust. The ancient god created ancient man, i.e., the man capable of mistakes; ergo, the ancient god himself made a mistake. The multiplication table is more wise and more absolute than the ancient god, for the multiplication table never ( do you understand — never) makes mistakes! There are no more fortunate and happy people than those who live according to the correct, eternal laws of the multiplication table. No hesitation! No errors! There is but one truth, and there is but one path to it; and that truth is: four, and that path is: two times two. Would it not seem preposterous for these happily multiplied twos suddenly to begin thinking of some foolish kind of freedom? — i.e. (is it not clear?), of a mistake? It seems undeniable, axiomatic, that R-13 knows how to grasp the most fundamental, the most . . .
At that moment again I felt (ﬁrst near the back of my head, then on my left ear) the warm, tender breath of the Guardian Angel. He apparently noticed that the book on my lap had long been closed and that my thoughts were somewhere very far. . . . Well, I am ready this minute to spread before him the pages of my brain. This gives one such a feeling of tranquillity and joy. I remember I even turned around and gazed long and questioning into his eyes; but either he did not understand, or he did not want to understand me. He did not ask me anything. . . . The only thing left for me is to relate everything to you, my unknown readers. You are to me now as dear and as near and as far out of reach as he was at that moment.
This was my way of thinking: from the part to the whole — R-13 is the part, the whole is our Institution of State Poets and Authors. I thought: how was it that the ancients did not notice the utter absurdity of their prose and poetry? The gigantic, magniﬁcent power of the artistic word was spent by them in vain. It is really funny; anybody wrote whatever happened to come into his head! It was as foolish as the fact that in the days of the ancients the ocean blindly splashed on the shore for twenty-four hours a day, without interruption or use. The millions of kilogram meters of energy which were hidden in the waves were used only for the stimulation of sweethearts! We obtained electricity from the amorous whisper of the waves! We made a domestic animal out of that sparkling, foaming, rabid one! And in the same manner, we domesticated and harnessed the wild element of poetry. Now poetry is no longer the unpardonable whistling of nightingales, but a State Service! Poetry is a commodity.
Our famous “Mathematical Norms”! Without them in our schools, how could we love so sincerely and dearly our four rules of arithmetic? And “Thorns”! This is a classical image: the Guardians are thorns about a rose, thorns that guard our tender State Flower from coarse hands. Whose heart could resist, could remain indifferent, when seeing and hearing the lips of our children recite like a prayer: “A bad boy caught the rose with his hand, but the thorn of steel pricked him like a needle; the bad boy cried and ran home,” etc., etc. And the “Daily Odes to the Well-Doer!” Who, having read them, will not how piously before the unselﬁsh service of that Number of all Numbers? And the dreadful red “Flowers of Court Sentences!” And the immortal tragedy, “Those Who Come Late to Work!” And the popular book, Stanzas on Sex Hygiene!
Our whole life in all its complexity and beauty is thus stamped forever in the gold of words. Our poets do not soar any longer in the unknown; they have descended to earth and they march with us, keeping step to the accompaniment of our austere and mechanical March of the musical State Tower. Their lyre is the morning rubbing sound of the electric toothbrushes, and the threatening crack of the electric sparks coming from the Machine of the Well-Doer, and the magniﬁcent echo of the Hymn of the United State, and the intimate ringing of the crystalline, shining washbasins, and the stimulating rustle of the falling curtains, and the joyous voices of the newest cookbooks, and the almost imperceptible whisper of the street membranes. . . . .
Our gods are here, below. They are with us in the Bureau, in the kitchen, in the shops, in the rest rooms. The gods have become like us, ergo we have become like gods. And we shall come to you, my unknown readers on another planet, we shall come to you to make your life as godlike, as rational, and as correct as our own . . .