Monday, November 12, 2012

Finding fault with a sphere . . .

     On November 9 I had the pleasure (hosted by Irina Mitrea and Maria Lorenz) of talking ("Thirteen Ways that Math and Poetry Connect") with the Math Club at Temple University and, on November 5, I visited Marion Cohen's "Mathematics in Literature" class at Arcadia University.  THANKS for these good times.

          says THANK-YOU
          to all those students
          from Arcadia and Temple 
          who participated in "math-poetry" with me --
          who held forth with sonnets, pantoums,
          squares, snowballs, and Fibs --
          that rests

      My Temple host, Irina Mitrea, and I share something else besides being women who love mathematics -- the Romanian poet, Nichita Stanescu (1933-83), is a favorite for both of us.  My October 23 posting ("On the Life of Ptolemy") offered one of Sean Cotter's recently published translations of poems by Stanescu and below I include more Stanescu-via-Cotter -- namely, two of the ten sections of "An Argument with Euclid."  These stanzas illustrate Stanescu at his best -- irreverently using mathematical terminology and expressing articulate anger at seen and unseen powers of oppression.

     An Argument with Euclid     by Nichita Stanescu

                         One thing cannot occupy the same space
                         at the same time as another.
                                   apocryphal citation from Euclid

     Ah, yes, I live in a space
     devoid of generosity.
     I live on a sphere, a sphere, a sphere,
     a sphere.

     If I lived on a square, a cube
     there'd be some type of plenty,
     but I live on a sphere, a sphere, a sphere,
     a sphere.

     Everything is based on economy.
     Maximum of content,
     minimum of form.

     Freedom is a form.
     Content is our own existence.

     Everything is based on economy;
     the earth is a sphere,
     the moon a sphere,
     the sun a sphere,
     the stars, sublime, are spheres.

     I live on a sphere, a sphere.
     The earth has mountains,
     the moon rings,
     the sun spots,
     the stars rays,
     but only for this world,
     mine, inside their illusion of freedom.

     I am arguing with you, Euclid, old man,
     the way Job argued with God
     when He covered him with sores and boils
     just for a bet with the devil,
     with whom He makes a sphere.

     I am arguing with you, idiotic old man,
     with no purpose in life,
     freedom and time, hermit,
     heavenly among the heavens.

     And I cry on your mountainous hand
     with long tears like hunting dogs
     and I say to you:  spheres are not beautiful!
     But tell me the truth, do spheres exist?

A complete version of "An Argument with Euclid" is found in Wheel with a Single Spoke , poems by Nichita Stanescu, translated by Sean Cotter and published in 2012 by Archipelago Books, a non-profit literary press dedicated to cross-cultural exchange.  Links to several Romanian-language versions of Stanescu's poems are offered in this October 23 posting.

A final note.  I have a special connection to Temple, having earned an MA in mathematics there, back in the sixties. And a slight connection to Arcadia (formerly Beaver College) in that I lived in its hometown of Glenside during my first years of teaching in Oreland, PA.

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