Friday, June 7, 2013

A Man-Made Universe and "found" poems

 Some poems are found rather than crafted.
It's such fun -- can happen to anyone -- 
to be reading along and find a poem. 

     This post continues (from the June 4 posting) consideration of lines that were not initially written as poetry but have been later discovered to have the desirable characteristics of a poem.
     In an early-April posting I offered a poem-in-a-photo, a poem created of book spines -- and the bottom book in my pile of six is Mathematics, the Man-Made Universe:  an Introduction to the Spirit of Mathematics by Sherman K Stein (Third Edition, Freeman, 1976).  Reprinted in 2010 in paperback format, Stein's textbook -- for a "general reader," a curious person who is not a mathematician -- has been on my shelf for many years and, though I never taught from it, I have enjoyed it and shared it with friends (and I love its title). Recently, in the opening paragraph of Stein's Chapter 19 (page 471), I found a poem:

from  Mathematics, the Man-Made Universe       by Sherman Stein

     The universe of mathematics
     grows out of the world about us like dreams 
     out of the events of the day. 

     The world serves as a cue, a point
     of departure, suggesting questions 
     that lure the mathematician. 

     Out of these questions, or their answers, grow
     more questions.  As long as questions demand answers,
     mathematics expands.

Perhaps I should add that the stanza-format is my addition -- in his book, Stein's words form a paragraph.  Stein's poem "Mathematician" appeared in an earlier blog posting, on 28 January 2011.
     From Greg Coxson -- who has alerted me to several mathy poems I have used in this blog -- we have another "found" poem, this one by Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) and involving paradoxes of time. Greg found Borges quoted on the website of photographer Andy Ilachinski.  And I have matched the words to the final lines of Borges' essay "A New Refutation of Time" in Labyrinths:  Selected Stories and Other Writings (New Directions, 1964).

from  A New Refutation of Time     by Jorge Luis Borges

     Time is the substance I am made of.
     Time is a river which sweeps me along,
     but I am the river;
     it is a tiger which destroys me,
     but I am the tiger;
     it is a fire which consumes me,
     but I am the fire.
     The world, unfortunately, is real;
     I, unfortunately, am Borges.

Borges is highly regarded for his poetry as well as for his fiction and essays.  Many of his poems involve mathematical ideas.  (His poem "Descartes" was featured in my blog post for 15 July 2011.)

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