Today's posting features work by Punya Mishra, professor and administrator at Arizona State University -- a writer who offers explanations of mathematical concepts in his poems, explanations that can appeal to students! Mishra's website features several mathy poems and in our email correspondence he said that "The Mathematical i" is his favorite. Here are are several stanzas:
from The Mathematical i by Punya Mishra
The negative numbers were full of dismay
We have no roots, they were heard to say
What, they went on, would be the fruit
of trying to find our square root?
Matters seem to be getting out of hand
Since the negatives have taken a stand,
On the fact that positives have two roots, while they have none.
They plead, would it have killed anybody to give us just one?
The square roots of 4 are + and – 2! As for -4 ? How unfair,
He has none! None at all. Do the math gods even care?
. . .
Hearing this non-stop (somewhat justified) negativity
The mathematicians approached the problem with levity
And suggested a solution, kinda cute and fun
Lets rename, they said, the square root of minus 1!
In essence lets re-define the problem away, on the sly
by just calling this number (whatever it may be) i.
. . .
So if you want to perceive the value of this little guy
I guess you have to just develop your mathematical i.
It may also help you remember how often we forget to see
The significance, to human life, of the imaginary.
Mishra's complete poem (9 stanzas), "The Mathematical i" is available here -- and this link leads to several others of his Math-Poems.