Is That a Math Poem in Your Pocket?
This is a guest post by Becky Jaffe.
Today is National Poem in your Pocket Day, a good day to wear extra pockets.
April also just so happens to be National Poetry Month and Mathematics Awareness Month. Good gods, such abundance! In celebration of the marriage of the left and right hemispheres of the brain, I bring you a selection of poems dedicated to the fine art of mathematics – everything from the mystical to the sassy. Enjoy!
from Treatise on Infinite Series by Jacob Bernoulli
Even as the finite encloses an infinite series
And in the unlimited limits appear,
So the soul of immensity dwells in minutia
And in narrowest limits no limits inhere.
What joy to discern the minute in infinity!
The vast to perceive in the small, what divinity!
A Biblical version of pi
Is recorded by some unknown guy
In “Kings,” * where he mentions
A basin’s dimensions —
Not exact, but a pretty good try.
* I Kings 7:23
Sir Isaac Newton by Paul Ritger
While studying pressures and suctions,
Sir Isaac performed some deductions,
“Fill a mug to the brim, it
Will then reach a limit,
So easily determined by fluxions.”
A New Solution to an Old Problem by Eleanor Ninestein
The Topologist’s child was quite hyper
‘Til she wore a Moebius diaper.
The mess on the inside
Was thus on the outside
And it was easy for someone to wipe her.
Threes by John Atherton
I think that I shall never c
A # lovelier than 3;
For 3 < 6 or 4,
And than 1 it’s slightly more.
All things in nature come in 3s,
Like … , trio’s, Q.E.D.s;
While $s gain more dignity
if augmented 3 x 3 —
A 3 whose slender curves are pressed
By banks, for compound interest;
Oh, would that, paying loans or rent,
My rates were only 3%!
3² expands with rapture free,
And reaches toward infinity;
3 complements each x and y,
And intimately lives with pi.
A circle’s # of °
Are best ÷ up by 3s,
But wrapped in dim obscurity
Is the square root of 3.
Atoms are split by men like me,
But only God is 1 in 3.
You disintegrate my differential,
You dislocate my focus.
My pulse goes up like an exponential
whenever you cross my locus.
Without you, sets are null and void —
so won’t you be my cardioid?
An Integral Limerick by Betsy Devine and Joel E. Cohen
Here’s a limerick —
Which, of course, translates to:
Integral z-squared dz
from 1 to the cube root of 3
times the cosine
of three pi over 9
equals log of the cube root of ‘e’.
PROF OF PROFS By Geoffrey Brock
I was a math major—fond of all things rational.
It was the first day of my first poetry class.
The prof, with the air of a priest at Latin mass,
told us that we could “make great poetry personal,”
could own it, since poetry we memorize sings
inside us always. By way of illustration
he began reciting Shelley with real passion,
but stopped at “Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”—
because, with that last plosive, his top denture
popped from his mouth and bounced off an empty chair.
He blinked, then offered, as postscript to his lecture,
a promise so splendid it made me give up math:
“More thingth like that will happen in thith clath.”
The last poem in today’s guest post is by a mathematician who proved the Kissing Circles Theorem, which states that if four circles are all tangent to each other, then they must intersect at six distinct points. Frederick Soddy wrote up his proof in the form of a poem, published in 1936 in Nature magazine.
The Kiss Precise By Frederick Soddy
For pairs of lips to kiss maybe
Involves no trigonometry.
This not so when four circles kiss
Each one the other three.
To bring this off the four must be
As three in one or one in three.
If one in three, beyond a doubt
Each gets three kisses from without.
If three in one, then is that one
Thrice kissed internally.
Four circles to the kissing come.
The smaller are the benter.
The bend is just the inverse of
The distance form the center.
Though their intrigue left Euclid dumb
There’s now no need for rule of thumb.
Since zero bend’s a dead straight line
And concave bends have minus sign,
The sum of the squares of all four bends
Is half the square of their sum.
To spy out spherical affairs
An oscular surveyor
Might find the task laborious,
The sphere is much the gayer,
And now besides the pair of pairs
A fifth sphere in the kissing shares.
Yet, signs and zero as before,
For each to kiss the other four
The square of the sum of all five bends
Is thrice the sum of their squares.
in Nature, June 20, 1936
The publication of this proof was followed six months later with an additional verse by Thorold Gosset, who generalized the case.
The Kiss Precise (generalized) by Thorold Gosset
And let us not confine our cares
To simple circles, planes and spheres,
But rise to hyper flats and bends
Where kissing multiple appears,
In n-ic space the kissing pairs
Are hyperspheres, and Truth declares,
As n + 2 such osculate
Each with an n + 1 fold mate
The square of the sum of all the bends
Is n times the sum of their squares.
in Nature, January 9, 1937.
This was further amended by Fred Lunnon, who added a final verse:
The Kiss Precise (Further Generalized) by Fred Lunnon
How frightfully pedestrian
My predecessors were
To pose in space Euclidean
Each fraternising sphere!
Let Gauss’ k squared be positive
When space becomes elliptic,
And conversely turn negative
For spaces hyperbolic:
Squared sum of bends is sum times n
Of twice k squared plus squares of bends.
These three raised the bar for presentation of mathematical proof and dialogue, throwing down the gauntlet to modern mathematicians to versify their findings. Who, dear readers, is up for the challenge?
Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day!