Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Giving thanks for poems

     As Thanksgiving approaches I am thankful not only for many blessings but also for the numbers I use to count them -- eight grandchildren, four children, two parents, one sister, one brother, an uncountable number of friends.  And I am thankful for poetry.  Here is one of my favorite math-related poems.

How to Find the Longest Distance Between Two Points   
                                                     by James Kirkup (England, 1919 - 2009)

From eye to object no straight line is drawn,
Though love's quick pole directly kisses pole.
The luckless aeronaut feels earth and moon
Curve endlessly below, above the soul
His thought imagines, engineers in space.

The crewless captain feels high heaven swoon
In elliptic oceans, where deserts roll.
The lost explorer sees the mountain raise
A cryptic summit where no valley is.

Pacing the infinite’s familiar place
Where things on things revolve, yet hover still,
And race into star-screwed oblivion,
The longest distance from that point we found
Shortest to this, where nothing is defined.

     James Kirkup was a poet, novelist, dramatist and translator. His author page at has 54 entries.   He has translated numerous books by French authors  and a number by Japanese poets. His complete works are published by Salzburg University Press, with some of his translations offered online at this link The poem above is found in the collection that Sarah Glaz and I edited, Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics  (A K Peters, 2008).

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