Thursday, December 16, 2010

Weighty Matters

Why is some verse labeled “light,” but when it acquires gravitas it suddenly turns into poetry? Such abuse of language is surely poetic. In this usage the opposite of light is profundity, I suppose, depth. Sorrows are always weighty; we never say that “her light sorrows took wing with dawn.” My Norton Book of Light Verse (light, perhaps, because the humorist Russell Baker was its editor) contains some lines profound enough even for those with frowning brows—but none, I must presume, with the heft of Ozymandias. Deuterium, the defining component of “heavy water,” is a hydrogen atom that features a neutron in addition to its proton, whereas the ordinary hydrogen does without the neutron. Here we have heavy but not light. Winged profundity emerges from one of my very favorite titles for a novel. It is Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. That one will last you for a long, long walk in any season, even in the snow.

Added later: In fairness to the nuclear industry, the term “light water” is actually used there in the designation of nuclear reactors that are cooled with ordinary water, thus in the designator light water reactor. They use that phrase because some reactors are cooled using heavy water, so to make sure that the other kind is clearly identified, they use the word light by way of extra labeling. But light water is just water, therefore no one asks for a glass of light water...


  1. Forget light verse to you I say
    America's heaviest poet declaims today
    That my next attempt at rhyming lines
    Will likely involve a chocolate eclair.
    Or maybe chicken wings.

    (Sorry, it's hard to rhyme when you're hungry.)

  2. Patioboater's
    A poetic toaster of
    All things delicious.

  3. Oh, thank you Arsen!
    How glad I am to learn that the endless bottles of water I drink are "light" and not "heavy". I fear that the coming holiday drinking will be of the latter kind and will be showing up on my bathroom scale display in 2011.


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