Friday, July 29, 2011

Mathematical Induction -- principle, perhaps poem

One of my teachers -- I think it was Mr Smith in "College Algebra" during my freshman year at Westminster -- gave me these words to remember:

     When confronted
     with a statement
     that seems true
     for all positive integers
     the wise student
     uses mathematical induction
     as her proof technique. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bridges in Coimbra

     Newton's binomial is as beautiful as Venus de Milo.

     What happens is that few people notice it.

                -- Fernando Pessoa (as Álvaro de Campos) (1888-1935)
                    translated from the Portuguese by Francisco Craveiro

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Little Infinite Poem

   Little Infinite Poem       by Federico Garcia Lorca

               For Luis Cardoza y Aragón

      To take the wrong road
   is to arrive at the snow,
   and to arrive at the snow
   is to get down on all fours for twenty centuries and eat
         the grasses of the cemeteries.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The wind, counting

     Who can ever forget
     listening to the wind go by
     counting its money
     and throwing it away?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Finding a square root

Here is an old poem (1849) by George Van Waters that offers instruction on finding a square root. This process was part of my junior high learning at the Keith School in Indiana, PA lots of years ago but I suppose the algorithm is seldom taught in 21st century classrooms.  (In case the poem's directions are unclear, additional instruction is offered here.)

Friday, July 15, 2011

I have dreamed geometry

   Descartes     by Jorge Luis Borges

   I am the only man on earth, but perhaps there is neither earth nor man.
   Perhaps a god is deceiving me.
   Perhaps a god has sentenced me to time, that lasting illusion.
   I dream the moon and I dream my eyes perceiving the moon.
   I have dreamed the morning and evening of the first day.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Seeking a universal language

Is mathematics a universal language?  Not only is this universality often postulated but also it was said  -- some decades back -- that devices were broadcasting into space the intial decimal digits of pi, expecting that other intelligent beings would surely recognize the sequence of digits.  Robert Gethner examines this arrogance in a poem.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Ancestry -- what counts

Etheridge Knight began writing poetry while an inmate at the Indiana State Prison and published his first collection, Poems from Prison, in 1968.  His poem "The Idea of Ancestry" shows us what a man in prison finds time to count:

   The Idea of Ancestry   by Etheridge Knight

   Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black
   faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grand-
   fathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts,
   cousins (1st and 2nd), nieces, and nephews. They stare
   across the space at me sprawling on my bunk. I know
   their dark eyes, they know mine. I know their style,
   they know mine. I am all of them, they are all of me;
   they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mathematicians at work

     About her collecton, The Scottish Café (Slapering Hol Press, 2002), Susan Case offers this note:
     This series of poems is loosely based upon the experiences of the mathematicians of the Scottish Café, who lived and worked in Lvov, Poland (now L'viv, Ukraine), a center of Eastern European intellectual life before World War II, close to the area from which my own ancestors emigrated to the United States.  A book, known as the Scottish Book, was kept in the Café and used to write down some of their problems and solutions.  Whoever offered a proof might be awarded a prize.
     Here is "Fixed Points," the opening poem from Case's collection:

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Mathematicians divide

One of my fine graduate courses at Hunter College was a "World Poetry" course taught by William Pitt Root.  One of our texts was Against Forgetting:  Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness (W W Norton, 1993), edited by Carolyn Forché.  In this collection is found "To Myself," a poem that confronts fear, by Abba Kovner (1818-1987), a hero of anti-Nazi resistance. Kovner dares to open the poem with the word "Mathematicians."