We dance round in a ring and suppose,

But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

from

*The Witness Tree.*

In this Robert Frost couplet, “The Secret Sits,” the poet may not have intended to speak of mathematics but his lines sing true for mathematical discovery.

We dance round in a ring and suppose,

But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

from*The Witness Tree.*

We dance round in a ring and suppose,

But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

from

Labels:
mathematical,
mathematics,
poetry,
Robert Frost,
secret

Counter-intuitive notions are among my favorite parts of mathematics and, in considerations of infinity, these are numerous. Recalling Zeno's paradox, we capture the infinite finitely in this summation:

1 + 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/2^{3} + . . . + 1/2^{n} + . . . = 1

1 + 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/2

Labels:
Frank Dux,
infinities,
infinity,
Lillian R Lieber,
Lucille Lang Day,
mathematician,
mathematics,
poetry,
series,
sum,
Zeno

Nonsense verse has a prominent place in the poetry that mathematicians enjoy. Perhaps this is so because mathematical discovery itself has a playful aspect--playing, as it were, with non-sense in an effort to tease the sense out of it. Lewis Carroll, author of both mathematics and literature, often has his characters offer speeches that are a clever mix of sense and nonsense. For example, we have these two stanzas from "Fit the Fifth" of *The Hunting of the Snark*, the words of the Butcher, explaining to the Beaver why 2 + 1 = 3.

Labels:
algebra,
decimal,
E P Dempster,
elliptical,
Langford Reed,
Lewis Carroll,
mathematics,
nonsense verse,
parabola,
parallel,
play,
poetry,
square root

More familiar than the name Benoit Mandelbrot are images, like the one to the left, of the fractal that bears his name. Born in Poland (1924) and educated in France, Mandelbrot moved to the US in 1958 to join the research staff at IBM. A fractal is a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is a reduced-size copy of the whole, a property called self-similarity.

Mathematics is a visual language. As with poetry, placement on the page is a key ingredient of meaning. Here is one of my favorite visual poems, "The Transcendence of Euler's Formula," by Neil Hennessey, a Canadian poet and computer scientist. For additional math-poetry from Neil, follow the link.

**e**pitome

e**pi**tome

ep**i**tome

epi**+**ome

ep**I**tome

_____________

epit**0**me

e

ep

epi

ep

_____________

epit

Labels:
circle,
concrete poetry,
e,
epitome,
Euler,
Euler's formula,
Euler's identity,
mathematics,
Neil Hennessey,
pi

Margaret Cavendish (1623-73) was a writer who published under her own name at a time when most women published anonymously. Her writing addressed a number of topics, including gender equity and scientific method.

Labels:
arithmetic,
atom,
circle,
cube,
Euclid,
figure,
Margaret Cavendish,
mathematics,
number,
passion,
poetry,
point,
quantity,
quotient,
squaring the circle,
subtract,
triangle

Piet Hein (Denmark, 1905-1996) was many-faceted--by times a philosopher, mathematician, designer, scientist, inventor of games and poet. He also created a new poetic form that he called 'grook' ("gruk" in Danish). Hein wrote over 10,000 grooks, most in Danish or English, published in more than 60 books. Some say that the name is short for 'GRin & sUK' ("laugh & sigh", in Danish). Here are samples, with links to more:

In my own library this next poem is found (untitled) in *Collected Sonnets* by Edna St Vincent Millay (1892-1950), but it also is found online at various sites. The first line of the sonnet, which announces Euclid as its subject, is well-known to most mathematicians; enjoy here all fourteeen lines.

Labels:
beauty,
David St John,
Edna St. Vincent Millay,
equation,
Euclid,
mathematics,
number,
poetry

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