Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mathematics in poetry by Nichita Stanescu

     Though formerly a math professor, my recent teaching has involved poetry--and I have been fortunate to spend several summer months at Scoala Andrei Muresanu in Deva, Romania, teaching poetry and conversational English.       
      In search of bilingual materials, I found the Romanian Voice website which offers translations of work by several Romanian poets.  My students' favorite was  "Another Kind of Mathematics" by Nichita Stanescu (1933-1983) (in Romanian, Altă matematică, and translated by George Mustea).
     Here is a version of "Altă matematică" co-translated by Romanian mathematician Gabriel Prajitura and me.

     Another Mathematics   by Nichita Stanescu

     We know that one times one is one,
     but we don’t know what
     a unicorn times a pear is.
     We know that five minus four is one,
     but we don’t know what it is
     to take a cloud from a ship.
     We know, yes, know that eight
     divided by eight is one,
     but we don’t know the amount
     of a mountain divided by a goat.
     We know that one plus one is two
     but, alas, we don’t know
     the sum of me and you.

     Ah, but a comforter
     times a rabbit
     is a redheaded one, of course,
     a cabbage divided by a flag
     is a pig,
     a horse minus a trolley
     is an angel,
     a cauliflower plus an egg
     is an ankle-bone . . .

     Only you and me,
     multiplied and divided,
     added and subtracted,
     stay the same . . .

     Vanish from my mind!
     Return in my heart!

My travels in Romania and my Romanian friendships have led to several co-translation projects--working with Doru Radu, Gabriel Prajitura, Sarah Glaz, and Stelian Apostolescu.  Further details and samples are offered on my webpage, including two more poems by Stanescu using mathematical imagery--"A Lecture on the Cube" and "A Lecture on the Circle."  Both of these poems have appeared in Circumference (2004).

No comments:

Post a Comment