## 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.