Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Portrait of Max Dehn

Today I offer a poem by Portuguese mathematician F. J. Craveiro de Carvalho -- its initial English publication was in Topology Atlas, 2005 -- about an outstanding mathematician, Max Dehn. Dehn inhabited Craveiro's office via a Springer-Verlag Poster.  Here is a portion of  Craveiro's introduction to the poem.

     Throughout the years Springer-Verlag has been producing a number of posters featuring distinguished mathematicians . . . Some twenty years ago or so I was lucky enough to get hold of one which . . . portrays a group of Gottingen mathematicians. The year is 1899 . . . and the group is remarkable. Among others it includes Max Dehn  . . .  Max Dehn's life has always interested me. He solved one of Hilbert's famous problems, the third, and things like Dehn twists, Dehn surgery, Dehn's lemma, for instance, crop up frequently in Topology and Group Theory related areas. Unfortunately he was one of the few mathematicians unable to obtain a job in accordance with his mathematical talent after being force to flee from Germany in 1939.      The poem below was written after years of contemplating the poster I mention above, which hangs on the wall facing my desk, in my office.

   Portrait of Max Dehn     by  Francisco José Craveiro de Carvalho

   This is the summer season
   of the quiet year of 1899
   in Gottingen.
   In the background there is a river
   or a stage-setting that creates a river.

   Only we still know
   that the young Max Dehn
   will have to rush
   out of the photograph
   and get rid of his coat
   high collars shirt and life
   to try and get to and find himself
   on a strange shore.

     The English translation of Craveiro's poem is by Professor Manuel Portela, Faculdade de Letras, Universidade de Coimbra, Portugal.  The original Portuguese version of this poem was first published in Gazeta de Matematica, # 149, July 2005. 
     Background information for the poem may be found at  Topology Atlas.  For more of Max Dehn's story, see the October 2002 issue of the Notices of the American Math Society for  an article entitled "Max Dehn, Kurt Gödel, and the Trans-Siberian Escape Route" by John W Dawson, Jr.  Additional portraits of mathematicians are highlighted in the posting for  13 November 2011.

     Craveiro is active in translating poetry into Portuguese.   At this site are several of his poems and his translations (including Portuguese versions of two of mine).  Here is a math-poem-with-translation by poet / blogger Diane Lockward.

No comments:

Post a Comment