Sunday, November 27, 2011

How much for a digit of PI?

Scottish poet Brian McCabe writes playfully of numbers.  In the following poem he imagines an auction of the digits of π.

   Three Point One Four One Five Nine Two
   Six Five Three Five Eight Nine Seven Nine
   Three  Two Three Eight Four Six Two Six
       Four Three Three Eight Three Two
         Seven Nine Five Zero Two Eight             by Brian McCabe 

             Ludolf van Ceulen 1540 - 1610

   The final item is the gravestone
   of Ludolf van Ceulen of Leyden,
   seventeenth-century mathematician.
   He spent most of his life
   calculating the value of pi
   by the Archimedes method
   to the first . . . ah, thirty-five digits.
   They are engraved on the stone
   beside the date of his death: 1610.

   A decade later his painstaking work
   was obsolete.  This is his stone.

   May we start the bidding at three?
   We have it from the gentleman
   in the hat from the University of Texas.
   Three thousand one hundred dollars
   from the bidder on line from Leyden.
   From the man in the hat from Texas
   we have three thousand one hundred
   and forty dollars.  From Leyden
   we have one hundred and forty-one.
   Three thousand one hundred and
   forty-one dollars and fifty cents
   from the man in the hat from Texas.
   From Leyden we have fifty-nine cents.
   Any more bids?  Sold to the bidder
   who is on line from Leyden!  So:
   the tombstone of Ludolf van Ceulen
   is returned to the place of his death
   for three thousand one hundred and
   forty-one dollars and fifty-nine cents.
   Or the value of pi to the sixth digit.
   Cheap at the price, considering.

McCabe's poem is found in his collection Zero (Polygon, 2009).  Computation of π continues in 2011 as a worldwide contest;  a recent record was set with more than 5 trillion digits. 
Previous blog postings on π may be found at these links:  in  2011, Mar 15 Remembering Pi-day, a day late; in 2010 :  Aug 23 The Irrational Sonnet -- an Oulipian form, Sept 2 Rhymes help to remember the digits of PiSept 6 More of Pi in Poetry.

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