Tuesday, January 6, 2015

from MIT Science-Poetry -- The Cal-Dif-Fluk Saga

     Recently I have enjoyed browsing a voluminous online 19th century Science-Poetry collection (Watchers of the Moon) hosted by MIT, gathered and edited by Norman Hugh Redington and Karen Rae Keck. Google led me to the site in a search for " poetry of calculus" and I found there found a fascinating item by J. M. Child The Cal-Dif-Fluk Saga (from The Monist: A Quarterly Magazine Devoted to the Philosophy of Science -- Open Court Publishing, 1917) and described as "a  pseudo-epic about the invention of calculus."  
     Child was a translator (from Latin into English) of the works of Isaac Barrow and Gottfried Leibniz and his poem presents the names of well-known mathematicians in clever scrambles:  Isa-Tonu is Newton, Zin-Bli is Leibniz, Isa-Roba is Barrow, Gen-Tan-Agg stands for Barrow's Gen-eral method of Tan-gents and of Agg-regates while Shun-Fluk and Cal-Dof refer to the methods of Newton and Leibniz.  One may, with a fair amount of work, enjoy this dramatization of warriors and weapons -- battles that were part of the development of calculus.  Here from the middle of the Saga (from Section 6 (of 17)), is a sample of Child's lines illustrating the struggles that calculus required.

 from  The Cal-Dif-Fluk Saga (from Section 6)     by J M Child

Such like in days of old had fitted the Heroes for battle.
Founded on this was the second, but strangely unlike it in practice.
Suppleness rather than strength was the object and creed of the trainer.
Straight-edged still was the sword; with it blocks were sliced into shavings,
Shavings were sliced into threads, and threads were chopped into pieces,
Parts of ineffable smallness, divisible reckoned no further.
Masonry part of the course, in which arches with bricks were fashioned,
Leaving the corners undressed; as the pupil advanced in his training,
Smaller and smaller the bricks, indivisible finally counted.
Specially fitted for Heroes, prepared for attack on the giant 
Clans of A-Re-A and Vol-Yum, the brood of Cur-Va-Rum and Mez-zur.
 . . .

Despite lots of Googling I failed to find biographical information about J. M. Child.  His name is  shown affiliated with several academic institutions and authoring a variety of books -- but his birth date and other life-span information I have not located.

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