A few poems about mathematics

cloudsI signed up for a course on mathematical philosophy on coursera.org, and I happened to mention that I have a poem on infinity, one of the subjects of this, the first week’s discussion. Since a couple of my fellow students asked to see the poems, and because I’m always delighted when anyone wants to read my stuff, I’m posting a couple of the poems here.

Infinities

In a countable infinity,
you start counting,
and keep counting,
and keep counting,
and never stop.

In an uncountable infinity,
count on failing
to pick out all the items
you want to count,
nor even find their limits,

thus proving that you can
count on mathematicians
for infinite complications
and definitions that limit
practical comprehension.

The two below have been published.


Inventing Zero

I wonder who invented zero,
a number representing “none.”
Did they hail him as a hero?

Maybe he was drinking beer, so
noticed when the drink was gone,
he needed to invent a zero?

Or did the idea just appear, slow,
thinking of the number one?
And did they hail him as a hero?

Or maybe when his funds got low,
he thought of nothing, just for fun,
and that’s how he invented zero.

You’d have thought they’d cheer and grow
excited, each and everyone,
that they’d hail him as a hero.

But many moons and many suns
have passed, and when all’s said and done,
we don’t know who invented zero,
I don’t think he was hailed a hero.
The Way it Should Have Been

In the beginning there was zero, void.
And the Mathematician said,
“Let there be a number one,”
and there was a number one.

And the Mathematician said,
“Let there be addition,
so numbers can be added together,”
and there was addition, the first operator.

And the Mathematician said,
“Let them go forth and add,”
and they went forth and added.
And there was two, three, four, five, …

And the Mathematician said,
“Let there be subtraction,
so one number can be subtracted from another,”
and there was subtraction, the second operator.

And the Mathematician said,
“Let them go forth and subtract,”
and the went forth and subtracted.
And there was -1, -2, -3, …

And there were positive integers,
and there were negative integers,
the first set of numbers.

And the Mathematician looked
upon what he had created,
and behold, the sum was greater than the parts.

Inventing Zero*

I wonder who invented zero,
a number representing “none.”
Did they hail him as a hero?

Maybe he was drinking beer, so
noticed when the drink was gone,
he needed to invent a zero?

Or did the idea just appear, slow,
thinking of the number one?
And did they hail him as a hero?

Or maybe when his funds got low,
he thought of nothing, just for fun,
and that’s how he invented zero.

You’d have thought they’d cheer and grow
excited, each and everyone,
that they’d hail him as a hero.

But many moons and many suns
have passed, and when all’s said and done,
we don’t know who invented zero,
I don’t think he was hailed a hero.

*Inventing Zero is a poetic form called a vilanelle.

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One thought on “A few poems about mathematics

  1. Jim Hartley

    Just for fun, here’s another Math poem I happened to have lying around:

    Theorem
    by James Hartley

    Axiom, postulate
    Basic idea, taken as given
    Undefined.
    Building block of mathematics.
    Insight, intuition
    Spiralling
    Combining logic.
    Deduction, step by step
    Upward in proof of
    A theorem.

    Like

    Reply

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