Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sieve of Eratosthenes

The Sieve of Eratosthenes     by Robin Chapman

He was an ancient Greek
looking for primes,
those whole numbers divisible
only by 1 and themselves,
those new arrivals on the block,
fresh additions to the stock
of indivisibles spilling through
future time (for what is time

but a number line?)   
If we look at his method we see
what's cut out of possibility--
strike out the future multiples of 2,
of 3, then 5, then 7, and so on
for every new prime encountered
in the list -- leaving in your wake
only 1 and those happy catches, big fish,
or rare islands of prime real estate --

or invert your metaphor to think
of primes not as rare finds
but as mutant genes, deadly
rogues in evolution's flow,
knocking out all their future
progeny, leaving only the last
relics of dead-end starts
om a watery earth
spinning around a minor star,

wobbling a little but not yet spun
out of its local neighborhood,
out of its run of evolving lives --
naturally selected, yes,
survival of the fittest, yes --
but it's mutual attraction
and multiplication
that fills in all the rest. 

This poem has appeared in the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics (Vol 3, Iss 1).  Chapman reads the poem aloud in this video from a recent Banff conference.
Poet Robin Chapman has collaborated with physicist Julien Sprott to create Images of a Complex World:  The Art and Poetry of Chaos.  Information about this volume is available here.

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