Monday, November 20, 2017


     Sometimes a poem comes to me with a story -- and such is the case with the poem by Richard Harrison that I offer below.  As part of my Google-searching for online sites that contain both "poetry" and "mathematics," I found an article about a new book by Canadian poet Richard Harrison -- and the article included the statement, "Harrison also writes about super heroes, cosplay, spoken word poetry and mathematics."
     And so I hunted for an email address for Richard Harrison, then wrote asking to learn more of his math-poetry activity.  In his reply, he sent me the poem below -- his one-and-only mathy poem -- a poem he derived from material he wrote in response to a request by philosopher Robert Crease for candidates for "the greatest equation."   Harrison nominated "1 + 1 = 2" and provided an argument in defense of his nomination -- and part of Harrison's response is offered in the preface for Crease's book, The Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg (W W Norton, 2009).

     Here is the poem that came from Harrison's support of  "1 + 1 = 2":

My case for 1+1=2 as the Greatest Equation     by Richard Harrison
— for Robert Crease

Other equations have done more,
               had greater reach, broader understanding of the universe,
      but there’s something to be said
for the simplest of their kind.

1 + 1 = 2 is the fairy tale of mathematics,
      the first equation I taught my son,
               the first expression of the miraculous power
                                            of the mind to change the world.

I remember my son holding up the one finger
                                            of each hand as he learned it,
     and the moment of wonder,
                                            perhaps his first   
                                                     of true philosophical wonder,

 when he saw that the two fingers,
                                                    separated by his whole body,
                                    could be joined in a single concept in his mind.

And when I saw my son’s mind open in understanding
that 1 + 1 was more than 1 + 1,
I saw that small equation as my child’s key
not just to what was wonderful in the world,
                                         but what was wonderful in him
                                                                                      and all of us.

Thank you, Richard Harrison, for this human-math connection.

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