Mathematics and poetry, 2

JoAnne Growney has posted on her blog a poem structured using prime factorisations: I think it is a lovely poem, and urge you to take a look.

Here is a poem where the mathematics used to structure the poem is much more primitive (just the first ten counting numbers), but the content (describing the world-wide fuss over the start of the year 2000) also has some mathematical resonances. It’s called Millennium.


An artefact
of ten fingers;

an accident
of dark age monks’
calendar lore;

a bonanza
for marketing
and preachers on

Numbers beguile –
they turn in quite
another way from
sun, moon, planets
and wheeling stars.

Year digit rolls
from one to two
while Jews sit in
keeping Shabat
and the Muslims
mark Ramadan.

The gyres of sun
and moon spin on
quite unconcerned
approaching their
conjunction with
all the planets,
the fifth of May.

On forest floors,
oak leaves moulder,
nourish fungi,
refresh the soil
for the next turn
of the round world,
the flowering
of primroses.

Small animals,
under hedges
or in burrows
will wake again,
scuttle away
at my approach
along footpaths
built by Romans.

Swans, long necks bent
and heads tucked in
like figure twos
will build their nests
of straggly sticks
above spring floods
and lay their eggs
in the season
smooth and round like
trails of zeros.

Hopefully not much explanation is needed; but 31 December 1999 was a Friday, and did occur during the month of Ramadan. There was a striking planetary conjunction on 5 May 2000 (who remembers Bob Dylan singing “I married Isis on the fifth day of May”?), and some people predicted a catastrophe that day. The Romans were in Britain nearly 2000 years ago. (The particular path I had in mind is Stane Street as it passes through the North Downs.) And of course it is true that the sixth century monk Dionysius Exiguus (Dennis the Short) guessed wrongly about the year Jesus was born.

About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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1 Response to Mathematics and poetry, 2

  1. Pingback: Front-page news « Peter Cameron's Blog

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