Saturday, July 22, 2006

Poetry to Live by

The road to wisdom? -- Well, it's plain
and simple to express:
and err
and err again
but less
and less
and less.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

Both of these poems were written by mathematicians.


The first was written by Danish mathematician Piet Hein (1905-1996). The second was written by Persian mathematician Omar Khayyám (1048-1131). These mathematicians were by no means "one hit wonders" as poets. Piet Hein called his poems Grooks and published a number of volumes of them. Omar Khayyám's poems are known as rubaiyat (the Arabic term for quatrain or four-line stanza). He is believed to have written about a thousand of them - a thousand! You may be familiar with a line from another of The Rubaiyat: "A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread - and Thou."

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