Mathematics and Poetry – What’s the connection?

Maths and Poetry

By Somali K Chakrabarti

 

The mathematician destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to its prismatic colours.” is how Newton was once referred to by noted poets of his time.

Poet William Blake had once said, “God is not a Mathematical Diagram“.

But a flower surely is! Mathematics defines the shape of spirals and curves of sea shells, sunflower heads, wherein poetry describes their beauty.

Maths and Poetry

Like apples and oranges, mathematics and poetry are considered to be divergent streams that have little in common. Whereas mathematics is a left brained activity that represents analytical thoughts devoid of feelings or senses, poetry is a right brained activity, which is mostly about emotions.

Yet, despite these stark differences, the two streams have similarities more than may be apparent.

Mathematics recognizes the finite and the infinite, relative and absolute, symmetry and asymmetry, and takes into account notion of convergence and divergence, and rationality and irrationality. So does poetry. Being aware of the parallels between the two can provide a sure shot boost for creative thinking.

The Epigrams by Rabindranath Tagore beautifully illustrate the concept of contrasting notions as can be found in mathematics in inverses and reciprocals.

“I have created this world,” proclaims Time.

“And we have created you,” the clocks chime.

I will close my door to shut out all possible errors.

“But how am I to enter in?” cried Truth.

Mathematical ideas involving astronomy and time, are found in the hymns of the ancient Indian epic Rig Veda, which supports the view that ancient poets were also mathematicians of their time.

Numbers are sometimes used in poetry for effect, and mathematicians find poetry in numbers. Both have structures and patterns. Poems generally follow a mathematical structure and have a chosen number of stanzas, wherein each stanza has a certain number of lines, and lines may have a certain number of syllables. Then, there is the shape of a poem – most often rectangle and sometimes can be a diamond or a leaf or any other shape. Mathematics is about all possible shapes.

Here is a collection of quotes that highlight the connection between mathematics and poetry.

“It is impossible to be a mathematician without being a poet in soul.” ~~ Sofia Kovalevkaya in Recollections of childhood, 1895

“Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.” ~~Albert Einstein

“All poetry is putting the infinite within the finite.” ~~ Robert Browning

“The moving power of mathematical invention is not reasoning but imagination.” ~~ Augustus De Morgan

“Number theory is like poetry. They are both the same kind. They start a fire in your mind.” ~~ Olga Tausky Todd

“An equation for me has no meaning unless it expresses a thought of God.” ~~ Srinivasa Ramanujan

Indian mathematician Ramanujan credited his substantial mathematical capacities to divinity.

“It could be said that mathematics and poetry are the freest intellectual activities of human beings.” ~~ Cai Tianxin

“I am interested in mathematics only as a creative art.” ~~ GH Hardy

 

Lastly, sharing here a part of a poem from: A Mathematical Problem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

This is now–this was erst,

Proposition the first–and Problem the first.

On a given finite Line

Which must no way incline;

To describe an equi–

–lateral Tri–

–A, N, G, L, E.

Now let A. B. Figure 1. Euclid: Elements, Proposition 1

Be the given line

Which must no way incline;

The great Mathematician

Makes this Requisition,

That we describe an Equi–

–lateral Tri–

–angle on it:

Aid us, Reason–aid us, Wit!

 

 ———————

References :

Mathematics in Poetry , JoAnne Growney, Journal of Online Mathematics and Its Application

Intersections — Poetry with Mathematics, JoAnne Growney,

-> Image source

 

Lei: A wreath for your soul  is a string of short poems reflecting on nature, life, illusion and inspiration.Lei

 

 

 

 

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Readers Comments (72)

  1. I have never been into poetry; mathematics -yes!
    This makes me wonder a bit…I ought to read it again.

    A grand work this is. Loved for sure!

    Reply
  2. I believe poets and philosophers dream and the mathematicians and scientists realise that.

    Reply
  3. Beautiful perspective on the relationship between mathematics and poetry. !

    Reply
  4. A beautiful post… truly said that Mathematics is poetry for mathematicians…..

    Reply
  5. bhudeb chakrabarti September 1, 2016 @ 8:14 pm

    A beautiful post.Our life is beautiful equally for mathematics and poetry.

    Reply
  6. Mathematics has always interested many just because of its simplicity and yet the many complex solutions it has in itself. I never thought mathematics and poetry could have a relation this intricate. Thank you for this.

    Reply
  7. The interface between mathematics and poetry, truly defines the world. Thank you so much for sharing it, amazing post 🙂

    Reply
  8. This quote:
    “An equation for me has no meaning unless it expresses a thought of God.” ~~ Srinivasa Ramanujan
    Wonderful! 🙂

    It was very long since I had read a post and loved it this much! That sunflower reminded me of Fibonacci series. Reading this was a heart felt enjoyment. Could perfectly correlate the mathematics and poetry. Awesome! 🙂

    Reply
  9. What a lovely connection. Maths I understand… poetry is like French to me!

    Reply
  10. Agree with you mathematics has similarities with poetry and writing. They both compliment each other at the end of the day. Though maths is logical, you need to be creative to see different solutions. Though poetry needs creativity, we need logic to put it together to make sense 🙂

    Reply
  11. I would say it in arv’s style…poetry I understand but Mathematics is like French/Latin/ Greek to me!!
    I have never paid any attention to the facts and quotes you have advocated to connect the two. I have always thought that Mathematics is such a pain and poetry a bliss, a celestial gift! Literature can never understand the equations. I know we like to see what we want to see and believe! Thank you for an eye-opener post Somali, much appreciated. 🙂

    Reply
  12. I have been bad at Maths but poetry is something I have always loved….I liked the two converging in the description of a flower…:)

    Reply
    • Thank you Sunaina. I started liking math only in the higher classes. Yet, found it difficult to understand the application in design of shell roofs in engineering but then I know people with affinity for math who make it simple to grasp. 🙂

      Reply
  13. An excellent post on poetry and mathematics. You can reach infinity in your poems as well as in pure mathematics. Our rishis expressed science and mathematics in shlokas, poems, and couplets in Vedas. One thing that you need for both is imagination! Well, you can find mathematics everywhere! 😉

    Reply
  14. Patterns in math equations do seem to be reflected in the layers of petals in a rose. Even this poem has math in it, “How do I love thee, let me count the ways. . .”

    Reply
  15. Extraordinary and out of the world, an infinite thought on two tangents that never seemed to meet but probably there is a meeting ground as is evident in your lovely post Somali replete with famous quotes by great men. Though I have dabbled in both streams, never mastered either 🙂

    Reply
  16. Right now I know why I can’t write a poem I barely managed maths.. 😀😀

    Reply
  17. “Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.”- what a wonderful quote you have shared. I think there’s also a pattern, logic and strict rules in a poetry. One just can’t put some words to form a beautiful poetry. Similarly, pure mathematics also has a tune, a poetic one, that inspires math-lovers to play it…to solve it.

    A great post on a unique topic, Somali… 🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you Maniparna. Yes, the arrangement of some beautiful words do not necessarily make a beautiful poetry. Similarly, writing or deriving an equation without understanding the essence has limited applicability.

      Reply
  18. The mathematics and poetry quotes are beautiful! Thanks for sharing those. I believe there’s beauty in words as well as in numbers.

    Reply
  19. Wonderful Post Somali, now I was never very good at Maths at school, especially mental arithmetic 🙂 but I am not too bad at poetry.. 😉 Never ever gave the thought of both them being joined together so was very interested in reading this Somali xxx

    Reply
  20. I see your point of math and poetry induce creative thinking, but math can also give someone a headache if they are not good at it.

    Reply
  21. Reblogged this on Hello Creatives Times and commented:

    I plan to reblog your post in my blog https://hellocreativestimes.com. Since you have enabled reblogging on your post, I am assuming that you are allowing others to reblog this post. However, if you have any objection to reblogging your post, please let us know as soon as possible. Thank you.
    🙂

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  22. This is a beautiful post. You have expressed the relation between mathematics and poetry very nicely which is very rarely found. Liked it a lot. 🙂

    Reply
  23. People think that mathematics is about following rules. They are often taught a concept and are asked to repeat the using the same rules. But, mathematicians need to be creative in the same way a poet or an artist is creative. We (as educators) need to find ways to induce creativity within mathematics at the lower levels!

    Reply
  24. Charming post, I am impressed by the sheer number of quotes you have there. When you mentioned William Blake, I was reminded of his poem “The Tyger”, in which he writes- ” What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”. As I read more of his poetry, it seems to me that he was troubled by the notion of mathematics, to say the least. That said, I love the idea that every mathematician must somehow be a poet, in fact I cannot think of a better word to describe mathematics, it is undeniably poetic.
    I am intrigued by what you have written about the Rig Veda, have you any clue what sort of mathematical ideas they pursued? I would very much like to know.

    Reply
  25. This is a beautiful perspective to take on things. Mathematics always struck me as having the same sort of wonder and symmetry and awe of the universe as poetry, and you conveyed that (which i could never put into words) beautifully.

    Reply
  26. wow! very insightful! i love it, used to love both mathematics and art together!

    Reply
  27. I love this–such an interesting perspective. Very good read 🙂

    Reply
  28. Wow,poetry and mathematics together make your life Ccreative.
    I’m a littile mathematician in the era of sir srinivas ramanujan….and littile poet in the era of sir gopal das neeraj and atal bihari vajpai ji…And glad to read…about mathematics and poetry.this is ultimate.

    Reply

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