Monday, May 16, 2016

Squaring the Circle -- from the POETRY App

     One of my smart-phone delights is the App (available from that gives me a selection of poems on the go. (My posting for 15 October 2015 gives a description of how the App works.)  A few days ago, spinning its dials -- matching the categories "Humor," "& Arts and Sciences"-- I found the exceptional poem "Squaring the Circle" in which poet Philip Fried has some fun with the impossible problem.   ("Squaring the Circle" first appeared in the July /August 2014 issue of Poetry and Fried has given me permission to include it here.)

Squaring the Circle      by Philip Fried

It’s a little-known fact that God’s headgear — 
A magician’s collapsible silk top hat,
When viewed from Earth, from the bottom up — 
sub specie aeternitatis,   

A pluperfect halo, both circle and square,
And a premonition of this truth
Spurred on an ancient philosopher,
Anaxagoras, to make numerous vain

Attempts to approximate the circle
Of his concerns with the square of the cell
He was jailed in for impiety.
Doomed calculations which God acknowledged

By doffing then pancaking his topper.
He was still bareheaded millennia later,
When he learned of von Lindemann’s proof that pi
Is not the root of a polynomial

With rational coefficients, hence
Squaring the circle’s impossible.
God un-collapsed, re-donned his hat!
But — it was 1882,

Progress was a juggernaut
And the public had no patience for “proof.”
From below, God’s gesture looked like a signal
For all hat- and cap-wearing men,

Proper in their headgear, for nations,
Well-stocked with helmets for delicate brainwork,
To take up “the compass and straightedge”
And prepare for a singular all-out attack

On this seductive conundrum, so men
Enlisted en masse in Geometry’s army,
Tossing up and away all hats
Of cloth, opaque haloes, hurray!

Read more about this poem and poet on the Poetry Foundation website

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