Monday, March 5, 2012

Poetic Explorations of . . . Mathematicians

In the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics (Volume 1, Issue 2), we find "NumenRology: A Poetic Exploration of the Lives and Work of Famous Mathematicians" by Saskatchewan poet, Mari-Lou Rowley. In addition to the following poem, "On Diophantus Arithmetica," Rowley's JHM collection includes "Ode to Alan Turing" and "On Euclid’s Book VII – Elementary Number Theory: Proposition 8." Rowley's lines below wonderfully describe the emotional flow that comes with engaging in mathematics -- as mathematical terms are translated into the human terms of wanting and forthcoming, kneading, . . . and yielding.

   On Diophantus’ Arithmetica     by Mari-Lou Rowley

     A “wanting” and a “wanting” yields a forthcoming.
     A “forthcoming” and a “wanting” yields a wanting. δ

   and did I tell you over the brim of it all
   and the words welling and sucked back
   under the undertow of wanting to yield
   all needing under your kneading hands

   and the words welling and sucked back
   and forth and finally returning to source
   stream-head bubbling a fissure forceful
   wanting your hands there forthcoming

   under the undertow of wanting to yield
   and fall forward running toward your
   words outstretched and spilt forth over
   the edge of this forthcoming yielding

   under your kneading hands all thoughts
   full of words unsaid re-verbed undone
   this pounding ribbed throbbing wanting
   and did I tell you over the brim of it all

δ Where positive terms represent a "forthcoming" and negative terms a "wanting."

Diophantus was a Greek mathematician who lived in Alexandria during the third century AD. His book Arithmetica is a collection of 130 problems and numerical solutions of these, many of which were not fully appreciated until the 17th century when one, widely publicized, became known as Fermat's Last Theorem. Although Arithmetica and its author are often mentioned as the origin of algebra, most of what was written in this work was also known by the Babylonians. 

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