Mathematical Poetry - A Small Anthology
We have heard much about the poetry of mathematics, but very little of it has as yet been sung. The ancients had a juster notion of their poetic value than we. The most distinct and beautiful statements of any truth must take at last the mathematical form. We might so simplify the rules of moral philosophy, as well as of arithmetic, that one formula would express them both.
The human aesthetic is strongly rooted in pattern and repetition; we seek symmetry in form in most arts, as well as in science. The mathematician seeks an 'elegant' proof above one which demonstrates the same result through contradiction or examination of numerous cases. He prefers one with a 'symmetry'; many proofs require the logic to follow in both directions at once. He seeks the simple, the fundamental from which to build his great mathematical structures. The artist or poet seeks a similar symmetry in many ways; the metre of poetry is a subtle counting, and the words chosen are a concise reflection of the experience of the poet. He seeks to give his poem a contained, elegant form, with verses and stanzas showing the inner symmetry of thought.
The mathematics we choose to hate in school is not the mathematics which, being a part of our soul, we will always love. As Gottfried Leibniz said, "Music is the pleasure the human soul experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting." It is true of all arts, for symmetry and pattern are the manifestations of mathematics.
The poems of this anthology deal directly or indirectly with mathematics. I have chosen some for their metre or structural patterns, others for their subject matter, others for amusement. Some note the differences between mathematician and poet, others note some of the similarities I mentioned above. I do not believe a man is but one or the other.
This page was last updated Jan 10, 99.