Last evening at the Distinguished Lecture Series sponsored by the MAA it was my privilege to hear an outstanding presentation by Judith Grabiner entitled "Space: Where Sufficient Reason Isn't Enough." (I invite you to go to the MAA website to learn more about Grabiner and her talk.)
Grabiner is a math-woman I have long admired and, after the lecture, while I was shaking her hand and thanking her for the excellent presentation, I took a moment to ask her if she had any favorite mathy poems. Although surprised by my question she was able to cite Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet XLIII that counts the ways of love -- a few lines of which are found here -- and the name Howard Nemerov, whom readers of this blog know is one of my favorite poets.
You may scroll down to find Nemerov's "Magnitudes" (found also at PoetryFoundation.com and PoemHunter.com along with other work by this fine poet). Poet Laureate of the United States during 1988-1990, Howard Nemerov
(1920-1991) served as a combat pilot during World War II and maintained a continuing interest in the stars and navigation. Here are links to my earlier postings of poems by this favorite poet.
"Two Pair" "Grace to Be Said at the Super Market"
"Lion and Honeycomb" "Creation Myth on a Mobius Band"
"To David, About His Education" "Found Poem" "Figures of Thought"
And here, expressing concerns about our planet, is Nemerov's "Magnitudes":
Magnitudes by Howard Nemerov
Earth’s Wrath at our assaults is slow to come
But relentless when it does. It has to do
With catastrophic change, and with the limit
At which one order more of Magnitude
Will bring us to a qualitative change
And disasters drastically different
From those we daily have to know about.
As with the speed of light, where speed itself
Becomes a limit and an absolute;
As with the splitting of the atom
And a little later of the nucleus;
As with the millions rising into billions—
The piker’s kind in terms of money, yes,
But a million² in terms of time and space
As the universe grew vast while the earth
Our habitat diminished to the size
Of a billiard ball, both relative
To the cosmos and to the numbers of ourselves,
The doubling numbers, the earth could accommodate.
We stand now in the place and limit of time
Where hardest knowledge is turning into dream,
And nightmares still contained in sleeping dark
Seem on the point of bringing into day
The sweating panic that starts the sleeper up.
One or another nightmare may come true,
And what to do then? What in the world to do?
Thanks, Judy Grabiner -- for your fine presentation with its historical perspectives on Euclid and geometry -- and for your fondness for poetry by Howard Nemerov.