Mathematical Poetry

Granted, mathematics may not be the topic of choice for your typical poet. However, poetry can and has been written about, and furthermore, many of the poems are clever and well-written. Four poems have been provided for your reading enjoyment here:

Fermat's Last Theorem, poem #1
Fermat's Last Theorem, poem #2
Hiawatha Designs an Experiment
Near a Raven
Note: if you are the author of any of these works and wish for them to be removed, e-mail me and I will do so immediately.

Excerpts from the "Fermat's Last Theorem Poetry Challenge" Page

Author: Maurice Machover Fermat's theorem has been solved, What will now make math evolve? There are many problems still, None of which can cause that thrill. Years and years of history, Gave romance to Fermat-spree, Amateurs and top men too, Tried to push this theorem through. Some have thought they reached the goal, But were shipwrecked on the shoal, So the quest grew stronger still; Who would pay poor Fermat's bill? So what is now the pearl to probe, The snark to hunt, the pot of gold, The fish to catch, the rainbow's end, The distant call towards which to tend? One such goal's the number brick, where integers to all lengths stick: To sides, diagonals, everyone, Does is exist or are there none? Then there are those famous pearls, that have stymied kings and earls: Goldbach, Twin Primes, Riemann Zeta; No solutions, plenty data. Find a perfect number odd; Through 3n+1 go plod; Will the P=NP? Send a code unbreakably. Are independence proofs amiss; Continuum Hypothesis; Find a proof which has some texture of the Poincare conjecture. And so, you see, onward we sail, there still are mountains we must scale; But now there's something gone from math, At Fermat's end we weep and laugh. return to top of page
Author: Matt Baker Once upon a midnight dreary, As I pondered weak and weary, O'er many a quaint and etale sort of cohomology, While inducing representations, I was led to deformations, And the ramifications of modular forms in characteristic p. So I struggled to break free. Ah, discreetly I conjectured, to myself alone I lectured, As the virile bust of Fermat wrought its ghost upon my floor, Suddenly there came an insight, that these flat group schemes were finite And I represented functors never dreamed about before. Then my soul began to soar. "Taniyama!" I then shouted, As the logic from me spouted, "It all comes down to looking at the prime l equals 3!" Modularity is the conclusion, And the Frey curve an illusion, So Fermat's equation cannot have nontrivial roots in Z! Quoth the raven, "Q.E.D". return to top of page

Hiawatha Designs an Experiment

by W. E. Mientka, "Professor Leo Moser -- Reflections of a Visit" American Mathematical Monthly, Vol. 79, Number 6 (June-July, 1972) See also "Applied Dynamic Programming" by Bellman and Dreyfuss, prior to 1962. Hiawatha, mighty hunter, He could shoot ten arrows upward, Shoot them with such strength and swiftness That the last had left the bow-string Ere the first to earth descended. This was commonly regarded As a feat of skill and cunning. Several sarcastic spirits Pointed out to him, however, That it might be much more useful If he sometimes hit the target. "Why not shoot a little straighter And employ a smaller sample?" Hiawatha, who at college Majored in applied statistics, Consequently felt entitled To instruct his fellow man In any subject whatsoever, Waxed exceedingly indignant, Talked about the law of errors, Talked about truncated normals, Talked of loss of information, Talked about his lack of bias, Pointed out that (in the long run) Independent observations, Even though they missed the target, Had an average point of impact Very near the spot he aimed at, With the possible exception of a set of measure zero. "This," they said, "was rather doubtful; Anyway it didn't matter. What resulted in the long run: Either he must hit the target Much more often than at present, Or himself would have to pay for All the arrows he had wasted." Hiawatha, in a temper, Quoted parts of R. A. Fisher, Quoted Yates and quoted Finney, Quoted reams of Oscar Kempthorne, Quoted Anderson and Bancroft (practically in extenso) Trying to impress upon them That what actually mattered Was to estimate the error. Several of them admitted: "Such a thing might have its uses; Still," they said, "he would do better If he shot a little straighter." Hiawatha, to convince them, Organized a shooting contest. Laid out in the proper manner Of designs experimental Recommended in the textbooks, Mainly used for tasting tea (but sometimes used in other cases) Used factorial arrangements And the theory of Galois, Got a nicely balanced layout And successfully confounded Second order interactions. All the other tribal marksmen, Ignorant benighted creatures Of experimental setups, Used their time of preparation Putting in a lot of practice Merely shooting at the target. Thus it happened in the contest That their scores were most impressive With one solitary exception. This, I hate to have to say it, Was the score of Hiawatha, Who as usual shot his arrows, Shot them with great strength and swiftness, Managing to be unbiased, Not however with a salvo Managing to hit the target. "There!" they said to Hiawatha, "That is what we all expected." Hiawatha, nothing daunted, Called for pen and called for paper. But analysis of variance Finally produced the figures Showing beyond all peradventure, Everybody else was biased. And the variance components Did not differ from each other's, Or from Hiawatha's. (This last point it might be mentioned, Would have been much more convincing If he hadn't been compelled to Estimate his own components From experimental plots on Which the values all were missing.) Still they couldn't understand it, So they couldn't raise objections. (Which is what so often happens with analysis of variance.) All the same his fellow tribesmen, Ignorant benighted heathens, Took away his bow and arrows, Said that though my Hiawatha Was a brilliant statistician, He was useless as a bowman. As for variance components Several of the more outspoken Make primeval observations Hurtful of the finer feelings Even of the statistician. In a corner of the forest Sits alone my Hiawatha Permanently cogitating On the normal law of errors. Wondering in idle moments If perhaps increased precision Might perhaps be sometimes better Even at the cost of bias, If one could thereby now and then Register upon a target. return to top of page

Near a Raven

by Mike Keith Start at the very beginning (with the word 'Poe') and write next to each word the number of letters it contains. Put a decimal point after the first digit. Look at the first few digits (or more if, like me, you know the first several hundred by heart). Are you impressed yet? "Near a Raven" encodes the first 740 decimals of pi. The encoding rule is this: a word of N letters represents the digit N if N<9, the digit 0 if N=10, and two adjacent digits if N>10 (e.g., a 12-letter word represents the digit '1' followed by '2'). Check the first few digits of pi against this approximation: 3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592307816406286208998628034825342117067982... Poe, E. Near a Raven Midnights so dreary, tired and weary. Silently pondering volumes extolling all by-now obsolete lore. During my rather long nap - the weirdest tap! An ominous vibrating sound disturbing my chamber's antedoor. "This", I whispered quietly, "I ignore". Perfectly, the intellect remembers: the ghostly fires, a glittering ember. Inflamed by lightning's outbursts, windows cast penumbras upon this floor. Sorrowful, as one mistreated, unhappy thoughts I heeded: That inimitable lesson in elegance - Lenore - Is delighting, exciting...nevermore. Ominously, curtains parted (my serenity outsmarted), And fear overcame my being - the fear of "forevermore". Fearful foreboding abided, selfish sentiment confided, As I said, "Methinks mysterious traveler knocks afore. A man is visiting, of age threescore." Taking little time, briskly addressing something: "Sir," (robustly) "Tell what source originates clamorous noise afore? Disturbing sleep unkindly, is it you a-tapping, so slyly? Why, devil incarnate!--" Here completely unveiled I my antedoor-- Just darkness, I ascertained - nothing more. While surrounded by darkness then, I persevered to clearly comprehend. I perceived the weirdest dream...of everlasting "nevermores". Quite, quite, quick nocturnal doubts fled - such relief! - as my intellect said, (Desiring, imagining still) that perchance the apparition was uttering a whispered "Lenore". This only, as evermore. Silently, I reinforced, remaining anxious, quite scared, afraid, While intrusive tap did then come thrice - O, so stronger than sounded afore. "Surely" (said silently) "it was the banging, clanging window lattice." Glancing out, I quaked, upset by horrors hereinbefore, Perceiving: a "nevermore". Completely disturbed, I said, "Utter, please, what prevails ahead. Repose, relief, cessation, or but more dreary 'nevermores'?" The bird intruded thence - O, irritation ever since! - Then sat on Pallas' pallid bust, watching me (I sat not, therefore), And stated "nevermores". Bemused by raven's dissonance, my soul exclaimed, "I seek intelligence; Explain thy purpose, or soon cease intoning forlorn 'nevermores'!" "Nevermores", winged corvus proclaimed - thusly was a raven named? Actually maintain a surname, upon Pluvious seashore? I heard an oppressive "nevermore". My sentiments extremely pained, to perceive an utterance so plain, Most interested, mystified, a meaning I hoped for. "Surely," said the raven's watcher, "separate discourse is wiser. Therefore, liberation I'll obtain, retreating heretofore - Eliminating all the 'nevermores' ". Still, the detestable raven just remained, unmoving, on sculptured bust. Always saying "never" (by a red chamber's door). A poor, tender heartache maven - a sorrowful bird - a raven! O, I wished thoroughly, forthwith, that he'd fly heretofore. Still sitting, he recited "nevermores". The raven's dirge induced alarm - "nevermore" quite wearisome. I meditated: "Might its utterances summarize of a calamity before?" O, a sadness was manifest - a sorrowful cry of unrest; "O," I thought sincerely, "it's a melancholy great - furthermore, Removing doubt, this explains 'nevermores' ". Seizing just that moment to sit - closely, carefully, advancing beside it, Sinking down, intrigued, where velvet cushion lay afore. A creature, midnight-black, watched there - it studied my soul, unawares. Wherefore, explanations my insight entreated for. Silently, I pondered the "nevermores". "Disentangle, nefarious bird! Disengage - I am disturbed!" Intently its eye burned, raising the cry within my core. "That delectable Lenore - whose velvet pillow this was, heretofore, Departed thence, unsettling my consciousness therefore. She's returning - that maiden - aye, nevermore." Since, to me, that thought was madness, I renounced continuing sadness. Continuing on, I soundly, adamantly forswore: "Wretch," (addressing blackbird only) "fly swiftly - emancipate me!" "Respite, respite, detestable raven - and discharge me, I implore!" A ghostly answer of: "nevermore". " 'Tis a prophet? Wraith? Strange devil? Or the ultimate evil?" "Answer, tempter-sent creature!", I inquired, like before. "Forlorn, though firmly undaunted, with 'nevermores' quite indoctrinated, Is everything depressing, generating great sorrow evermore? I am subdued!", I then swore. In answer, the raven turned - relentless distress it spurned. "Comfort, surcease, quiet, silence!" - pleaded I for. "Will my (abusive raven!) sorrows persist unabated? Nevermore Lenore respondeth?", adamantly I encored. The appeal was ignored. "O, satanic inferno's denizen -- go!", I said boldly, standing then. "Take henceforth loathsome "nevermores" - O, to an ugly Plutonian shore! Let nary one expression, O bird, remain still here, replacing mirth. Promptly leave and retreat!", I resolutely swore. Blackbird's riposte: "nevermore". So he sitteth, observing always, perching ominously on these doorways. Squatting on the stony bust so untroubled, O therefore. Suffering stark raven's conversings, so I am condemned, subserving, To a nightmare cursed, containing miseries galore. Thus henceforth, I'll rise (from a darkness, a grave) -- nevermore! -- Original: E. Poe -- Redone by measuring circles. return to top of page

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