Sunday, October 4, 2015

A mathematician's favorite poet

     A summertime gift book that I have much enjoyed reading is Love & Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality by Edward Frenkel (Basic Books, 2013).  I admire the way Frenkel's memoir braids mathematics together with the other threads of his life.  Including poetry.  Like me, he chooses E E Cummings as one of his favorite poets.  And he used lines from Cummings' 1931 poem "the surely" as an epigram for a 2007 book that summarized his work.
     Below I include the entire text of Cummings' poem, with Frenkel's epigraph highlighted in bold face.

the surely     

motif smites truly to Beautifully
retire through its english

the Forwardflung backwardSpinning hoop returns fasterishly
whipped the top leaps bounding upon other tops to caroming
off persist displacing Its own and their Lives who
grow slowly and first into different deaths

Concentric geometries of transparency slightly
joggled sink through algebras of proud

inwardlyness to collide spirally with iron arithmethics
and mesh witH
Which when both

march outward into the freezing fire of Thickness)points

find everywheres noisecoloured
curvecorners gush silently perpetuating solids (More
fluid Than gas

Cummings' poem is on my shelf in his Complete Poems, 1913-1962 (HBJ, NY, 1972)
In Love & Math, Frenkel offered these remarks about his selection from Cummings' lines:  "To me, it sounds like a poetic metaphor for what we are trying to achieve in the Langlands program:  a unity of geometry, algebra, and arithmetic (that is, number theory).  A modern-day alchemy."

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