Mathematics and Poetry – What’s the connection?

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

 

-> 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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72 thoughts on “Mathematics and Poetry – What’s the connection?

  • September 1, 2016 at 7:10 pm
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    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
    • September 2, 2016 at 7:50 am
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      Thank you Alok. I believe that is because of the way math is taught that it appears drab to most. There are university courses which teach the connection between art and math.

      Reply
  • September 1, 2016 at 7:13 pm
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    I believe poets and philosophers dream and the mathematicians and scientists realise that.

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    • September 2, 2016 at 7:52 am
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      Thank you Sharat. That’s a good way to look at the streams. The overlap also exists, which is often not apparent. Do check out Prof Manjul Bhargava’s writings on Poetry, Drumming and Mathematics.

      Reply
    • September 2, 2016 at 7:59 am
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      ..and nature’s proportions are governed by mathematical equations. 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by.

      Reply
      • September 4, 2016 at 8:54 pm
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        Yup…. I am always fascinated by the mathematics of nature… or Nature of Mathematics…… I Love Maths.. I love nature….

        Reply
  • September 1, 2016 at 8:14 pm
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    A beautiful post.Our life is beautiful equally for mathematics and poetry.

    Reply
  • September 1, 2016 at 8:34 pm
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    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.

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    • September 2, 2016 at 8:02 am
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      Thank you Harsh. Exploring the connection between these divergent streams can be pretty interesting.

      Reply
  • September 1, 2016 at 8:35 pm
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    The interface between mathematics and poetry, truly defines the world. Thank you so much for sharing it, amazing post 🙂

    Reply
  • September 1, 2016 at 8:42 pm
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    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
    • September 2, 2016 at 8:16 am
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      Thank you PH. Yes Fibonacci series, Pi, Golden Ratio can be seen in nature’s art. Only if they were taught with this perspective how interesting would math be!

      Reply
      • September 3, 2016 at 12:21 pm
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        Exactly what I felt. And I guess a few teachers today are doing that.Internet has made many things possible and easy.. 🙂

        Reply
  • September 1, 2016 at 10:42 pm
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    What a lovely connection. Maths I understand… poetry is like French to me!

    Reply
  • September 2, 2016 at 7:47 am
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    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
    • September 2, 2016 at 8:22 am
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      Thank you so much Mabel. I completely take your views on being creative in mathematics and being logical in poetry. Yes, they both complement each other and both have layers and depths to them. 🙂

      Reply
  • September 2, 2016 at 9:52 am
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    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
    • September 2, 2016 at 5:17 pm
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      Thank you Balroop. Yes mathematics is taught as a drab subject but for mathematicians who play with equations like writers play with words, it is a celestial gift and the absolute truth. 🙂

      Reply
  • September 2, 2016 at 6:43 pm
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    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
    • September 2, 2016 at 8:42 pm
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      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
  • September 3, 2016 at 2:07 am
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    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
  • September 3, 2016 at 10:09 am
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    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
    • September 4, 2016 at 10:24 am
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      Yes, math equations are seen in the layers of petals, custard apple, sea shells, ferns, etc. I just checked out the poem “How do I love thee…” Its lovely, Thank you for sharing Robin.

      Reply
  • September 3, 2016 at 10:13 am
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    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
    • September 4, 2016 at 10:26 am
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      Thank you Sunita. Mastering the two is a faraway thought for me as well….let’s keep dabbling in both. 🙂

      Reply
  • September 3, 2016 at 1:55 pm
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    Right now I know why I can’t write a poem I barely managed maths.. 😀😀

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  • September 3, 2016 at 6:37 pm
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    “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
    • September 4, 2016 at 10:30 am
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      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
  • September 5, 2016 at 3:50 am
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    The mathematics and poetry quotes are beautiful! Thanks for sharing those. I believe there’s beauty in words as well as in numbers.

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    • September 5, 2016 at 8:08 am
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      Thank you Poet. I appreciate your views. Let’s keep discovering the beauty in numbers and words.

      Reply
  • September 12, 2016 at 6:16 pm
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    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
  • September 21, 2016 at 4:52 am
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    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.

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    • September 21, 2016 at 7:41 am
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      I take your point. If math is taught creatively enough, perhaps it could reduce the headache to an extent. 🙂

      Reply
  • September 29, 2016 at 5:03 am
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    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.
    🙂

    Reply
  • October 13, 2016 at 11:59 am
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    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
  • November 8, 2016 at 9:24 am
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    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
  • December 19, 2016 at 10:43 am
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    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
  • January 10, 2017 at 12:44 pm
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    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
  • January 30, 2017 at 2:26 am
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    wow! very insightful! i love it, used to love both mathematics and art together!

    Reply
  • February 26, 2017 at 7:32 am
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    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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