The Kingdom of Number is all boundaries
Which may be beautiful and must be true;
To ask if it is big or small proclaims one
The sort of lover who should stick to faces.
Lovers of small numbers go benignly potty,
Believe all tales are thirteen chapters long,
Have animal doubles, carry pentagrams,
Are Millerites, Baconians, Flat-Earth-Men.
Lovers of big numbers go horridly mad,
Would have the Swiss abolished, all of us
Well purged, somatotyped, baptised, taught baseball:
They empty bars, spoil parties, run for Congress.
True, between faces almost any number
Might come in handy, and One is always real;
But which could any face call good, for calling
Infinity a number does not make it one.
For the first twenty years since yesterday
I scarce believed thou couldst be gone away;
For forty more I fed on favors past,
And forty on hopes that thou wouldst they might last.
Tears drowned one hundred, and sighs blew out two,
A thousand, I did neither think nor do,
Or not divide, all being one thought of you,
Or in a thousand more forgot that too.
Yet call not this long life, but think that I
Am, by being dead, immortal. Can ghosts die?
John Donne is one of the great poets. Who can resist sharing one of his poems?
In science and mathematics, accuracy is key. In this poem, Mirslav Holub (an immunologist) reflects on accuracy. This poem was translated form the Czech by Ewald Osers.
Brief Reflection on Accuracy
always accurately know where to move and when,
birds have an accurate built-in time sense
lacking such instincts resorts to scientific
research. Its nature is illustrated by the following
A certain soldier
had to fire a cannon at six o’clock sharp every evening.
Being a soldier he did so. When his accuracy was
investigated he explained:
I go by
the absolutely accurate chronometer in the window
of the clockmaker down in the city. Every day at seventeen
forty-five I set my watch by it and
climb the hill where my cannon stands ready.
At seventeen fifty-nine precisely I step up to the cannon
and at eighteen hours sharp I fire.
And it was clear
that this method of firing was absolutely accurate.
All that was left was to check that chronometer. So
the clockmaker down in the city was questioned about
his instrument’s accuracy.
Oh, said the clockmaker,
this is one of the most accurate instruments ever. Just imagine,
for many years now a cannon has been fired at six o’clock sharp.
And every day I look at this chronometer
and always it shows exactly six.
Chronometers tick and cannon boom.
I have seen beauty that you may never see
Folded something ugly into Hilbert space
And watched as quantum nonsense became obvious and sane
Step by step built equations
Adding to one side
Taking from the other
And found true beauty
It is something you feel, something known
Something to do with symmetry
Something to do with what is revealed and what is not
(much like an evening dress)
Now it is lost to me
My mathematical muscles are wasted away
But I remember, Oh I remember
Copyright © 2016 Kim Whysall-Hammond
From the Cheesellers Wife