Just when I was convinced that mathematical subject matter appears proportionately more in modern than in classical poetry, I turned again to work by Lord George Gordon Byron (1788-1824) and began to contradict myself. Here (from Byron's Complete Poetical Works) is "Thoughts Suggested by a College Examination." As is common today in literature and verse, the mathematicians (and scientists) are found wanting (though we are not the only deficient ones).
Thoughts Suggested by a College Examination by Lord Byron
High in the midst, surrounded by his peers,
Magnus his ample front sublime uprears:
Plac'd on his chair of state, he seems a God,
While Sophs and Freshmen tremble at his nod.
As all around sit wrapt in speechless gloom,
His voice, in thunder, shakes the sounding dome;
Denouncing dire reproach to luckless fools,
Unskill'd to plod in mathematic rules.
Happy the youth in Euclid's axioms tried,
Though little vers'd in any art beside;
Who, scarcely skill'd an English line to pen,
Scans Attic metres with a critic's ken.
What, though he knows not how his fathers bled,
When civil discord pil'd the fields with dead,
When Edward bade his conquering bands advance,
Or Henry trampled on the crest of France:
Though marvelling at the name of Magna Charta,
Yet well he recollects the laws of Sparta;
Can tell what edicts sage Lycurgus made,
While Blackstone's on the shelf, neglected laid;
Of Grecian dramas vaunts the deathless fame,
Of Avon's bard, rememb'ring scarce the name.
Such is the youth whose scientific pate
Class-honours, medals, fellowships, await;
Or even, perhaps, the declamation prize,
If to such glorious height, he lifts his eyes.
But lo! no common orator can hope
The envied silver cup within his scope:
Not that our heads much eloquence require,
Th' Athenian's glowing style, or Tully's fire.
A manner clear or warm is useless, since
We do not try by speaking to convince;
Be other orators of pleasing proud:
We speak to please ourselves, not move the crowd:
Our gravity prefers the muttering tone,
A proper mixture of the squeak and groan:
No borrow'd grace of action must be seen,
The slightest motion would displease the Dean;
Whilst every staring Graduate would prate,
Against what he could never imitate.
The man, who hopes t' obtain the promis'd cup,
Must in one posture stand, and ne'er look up;
Nor stop, but rattle over every word--
No matter what, so it can not be heard:
Thus let him hurry on, nor think to rest:
Who speaks the fastest's sure to speak the best;
Who utters most within the shortest space,
May, safely, hope to win the wordy race.
The sons of science these, who, thus repaid,
Linger in ease in Granta's sluggish shade;
Where on Cam's sedgy banks, supine, they lie,
Unknown, unhonour'd live, unwept for die:
Dull as the pictures, which adorn their halls,
They think all learning fix'd within their walls:
In manners rude, in foolish forms precise,
All modern arts affecting to despise;
Yet prizing Bentley's, Brunck's, or Porson's note,
More than the verse on which the critic wrote:
Vain as their honours, heavy as their ale,
Sad as their wit, and tedious as their tale;
To friendship dead, though not untaught to feel,
When Self and Church demand a bigot zeal.
With eager haste they court the lord of power,
Whether 'tis Pitt or Petty rules the hour;
To him, with suppliant smiles, they bend the head,
While distant mitres to their eyes are spread.
But should a storm o'erwhelm him with disgrace,
They'd fly to seek the next, who fill'd his place.
Such are the men who learning's treasures guard!
Such is their practice, such is their reward !
This much, at least, we may presume to say--
The premium can't exceed the price they pay. (1806)
A footnoted version of Byron's poem is available here. Previous postings offer pre-20th-century poems of mathematics by Margaret Cavendish (10 May 2010), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (30 March 2011), William Rowan Hamilton (13 October 2011), and William Blake (8 November 2010).