To Those Without Wings

To my knowledge, this is the first English translation of a poem by Felix Hausdorff (1868-1942), a world-famous mathematician who was also a philosopher, dramatist and poet. While his literary work has been neglected as his scientific renown has grown, I think it was part of the same holistic and innovative worldview that made him a founder of what some historians have called “mathematical modernity.” I am translating his 1900 poetry collection, Ekstasen (Ecstasy) in the hope that it will interest English-speaking mathematicians and poets, and contribute to interdisciplinary thinking. This is the first poem in a section entitled “Flights of the Butterfly.”


I fly my joy
So it doesn’t flee.

All joy longs to fly
To glide on butterfly wings the color of burning gold
Over clouds of blossom-fragrance.

I don’t envy those
Who sing and speak and dance their joy
Their earthbound pleasure
So strictly tamed and trained, compelled
To trudge along in clanging harness
With words as plodding as a mule.

Because you cannot fly
You bind joy tight
Lest it escape your bondage

I fly my joy
I am my own joy’s flight and storm
I am the cloud of fragrance above the trembling flowers
Whipped by the wind from incandescent wings.

Kimberly Gladman Jackson is the author of Materfamilias (Tandeta Books, 2018) and Tesseract (Finishing Line Press, 2016).
You can connect with her on her website.

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