Wednesday, March 31, 2010

John Donne's numbers

       Perhaps best known for the religious themes in his poetry, John Donne (1572-1631) also wrote many love poems. Although the mathematics here includes only numbers, they are well-used to strengthen both the intensity and the precision of the work.

The Primrose  by John Donne

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Miroslav Holub, poet and scientist

Miroslav Holub (1923-1998), Czech poet and immunologist who excelled in both endeavors, is one of my favorite poets.  He combines scientific exactitude with empathy and absurdity.  Here are samples:

The Corporal Who Killed Archimedes

With one bold stroke
he killed the circle, tangent
and point of intersection
in infinity.

Monday, March 29, 2010

"Mathematical" Limericks

A dozen, a gross, and a score
Plus three times the square root of four
     Divided by seven
     Plus five times eleven
Is nine squared and not a bit more.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

W. H. Auden's Kingdom of Number

Some poetry is termed "mathematical" because mathematical terminology is included in the text of the poem, often to vivid effect. Such is the case in this poem by W H Auden, in which it is also the case that most lines have 11 syllables.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Queneau and the Oulipo

Raymond Queneau was one of the leaders of a group of ten--primarily writers and mathematicians, primarily French--who founded a group, "Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle" ("Workshop of Potential Literature"), that eventually became known as the Oulipo. Queneau described potential literature as "the search for new forms and structures that may be used by writers in any way they see fit."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Howard Nemerov's mathematical imagery

GETTING IT RIGHT IN LANGUAGE -- Poets and mathematicians alike are concerned with precise statement. Two-time US Poet Laureate Howard Nemerov (1920-1991) characterized poetry in a way that many mathematicians would likewise characterize their subject: POETRY is getting something right in language. Nemerov often used mathematical imagery in his poems. Here is a sample.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Poetry of Logical Ideas

When the NY Times failed to publish an obituary following the death of noted algebraist Amalie "Emmy" Noether, Albert Einstein corrected the omission with a letter to the editor (noting Noether's accomplishments) published on May 5, 1935. In addition to his praise for one of the most accomplished mathematicians of all time, Einstein said this of mathematics: "Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas." In the 1960s, as I climbed into the male-dominated world of mathematics, Emmy Noether was one of my heroes. Many years later I wrote this poem.