Guest poem sent in by Jedrek Burakiewicz
(Poem #1205) Love and Tensor Algebra
Come, let us hasten to a higher plane Where dyads tread the fairy fields of Venn, Their indices bedecked from one to n Commingled in an endless Markov chain! Come, every frustum longs to be a cone And every vector dreams of matrices. Hark to the gentle gradient of the breeze: It whispers of a more ergodic zone. In Riemann, Hilbert or in Banach space Let superscripts and subscripts go their ways. Our asymptotes no longer out of phase, We shall encounter, counting, face to face. I'll grant thee random access to my heart, Thou'lt tell me all the constants of thy love; And so we two shall all love's lemmas prove, And in our bound partition never part. For what did Cauchy know, or Christoffel, Or Fourier, or any Boole or Euler, Wielding their compasses, their pens and rulers, Of thy supernal sinusoidal spell? Cancel me not - for what then shall remain? Abscissas some mantissas, modules, modes, A root or two, a torus and a node: The inverse of my verse, a null domain. Ellipse of bliss, converge, O lips divine! the product of four scalars it defines! Cyberiad draws nigh, and the skew mind Cuts capers like a happy haversine. I see the eigenvalue in thine eye, I hear the tender tensor in thy sigh. Bernoulli would have been content to die, Had he but known such a^2 cos 2 phi!
(translated by Michael Kandel) Above is a poem taken from Stanislaw Lem's book 'Cyberiad'. It is what you are given when you ask Electronic Bard (an ultimate poem writing machine) to write a 'love poem, lyrical, pastoral, and expressed in the language of pure mathematics. Tensor algebra mainly, with a little topology and higher calculus, if need be. But with feeling, you understand, and in the cybernetic spirit'. It is the only known to me example of using mathematical language in literature, especially to express love. And even without understanding most words one can feel their intended meaning, which is a great achievement of Michael Kandel, the translator of the poem (and most books of Lem). I happen to be Polish, and in Polish writes Stanislaw Lem, so I know the poem much better in original. And I must admit that translation is great - even if mathematical expressions used are completely different it doesn't matter, because the feeling I get while reading it in English remains the same. It has something to do with futuristic poems from 20's, in which more important from the meaning was how the words sounded and 'felt like'. As for Lem's books in general, he is a science fiction writer, but it would be more appropriate to name what he writes a 'philosophical fiction'. In none of his books (save some very early ones, perhaps) is the technology a main subject - it only serves as a background to create moral or philosophical problems. 'Cyberiad' is a very good example for this. By creating a world of robots and machines (which, by the way, is not a result of a 'machine rebellion', it just is so) Lem describes, among many other things, how virtues known to us like Good, Justice etc. don't change despite of the surrounding world. Yet it is not given to the reader in a "Star Wars" way, black and white, there are no Good Rebels and Evil Empire, everything is relative. And, besides, written with brilliant sense of humour. You might have seen 'Solaris' in cinema recently - it is based on a book by Lem, but don't rely on the film - it doesn't have that much to do with the book, at least from my point of view. I liked the book very much and was very bored while watching the film - unfortunately Steven Soderbergh eliminated almost everything valuable from the book, leaving only the love story and changing the ending completely (killing the meaning of the book). If you haven't seen the film and haven't read the book yet - rather read the book. It is not the funny part of Lem's writing, but rather sad and depressing, yet wonderful. Jedrek [Martin adds] If you haven't read Lem's magnificently quirky 'Cyberiad', I would like to strongly second Jedrek's recommendation. The only thing I've read that comes close to it in spirit is St. Exupery's "The Little Prince" (another unmissable classic). r = a^2 cos(2.phi) is, disappointingly, not a cardioid (a heart-shaped curve) - I was expecting the pun. It seems instead to be a rather pretty four-petalled flower shape - think two figure-8s at right angles to each other, sharing a central point (I guess you could call it a variant on the lemniscate - is there a more specific term for this particular curve? I have the feeling I'm missing some clever mathematical pun here). Euler/ruler is an eye rhyme, of course ('Euler' is properly pronounced 'Oiler'), but nevermind :) martin Links: Biography: http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/slem.htm We ran a brief theme on the poetry of mathematics a while ago: Poem #599, Poem #601 and Poem #604