c/o Maria Popova
As I dig deeper into poetry, the more I am captured by the beauty of words and imagination combined can bring to this world. Poetry is a way to express emotion, feeling, ideas in a way a sentence or a singular word will never suffice. Today, I’d like to share one based on mathematics by the Polish author, essayist and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature, Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska.
by Wisława Szymborska
The admirable number pi:
three point one four one.
All the following digits are also initial,
five nine two because it never ends.
It can’t be comprehended six five three five at a glance,
eight nine by calculation,
seven nine or imagination,
not even three two three eight by wit, that is, by comparison
four six to anything else
two six four three in the world.
The longest snake on earth calls it quits at about forty feet.
Likewise, snakes of myth and legend, though they may hold out a bit longer.
The pageant of digits comprising the number pi
doesn’t stop at the page’s edge.
It goes on across the table, through the air,
over a wall, a leaf, a bird’s nest, clouds, straight into the sky,
through all the bottomless, bloated heavens.
Oh how brief — a mouse tail, a pigtail — is the tail of a comet!
How feeble the star’s ray, bent by bumping up against space!
While here we have two three fifteen three hundred nineteen
my phone number your shirt size the year
nineteen hundred and seventy-three the sixth floor
the number of inhabitants sixty-five cents
hip measurement two fingers a charade, a code,
in which we find hail to thee, blithe spirit, bird thou never wert
alongside ladies and gentlemen, no cause for alarm,
as well as heaven and earth shall pass away,
but not the number pi, oh no, nothing doing,
it keeps right on with its rather remarkable five,
its uncommonly fine eight,
its far from final seven,
nudging, always nudging a sluggish eternity
And here is a video of Maria Popova giving her thoughts on the poem followed by a reading of the poem during the 2017 edition of Universe in Verse event.
In a world surrounded by ever-advancing technology and increasing automation, existential questions become inevitable. Reading poetry gives me a sense of grounding in humanity. The need for expressing ourselves with prose shall remain beyond the realm of algorithms (if you’re reading this in 2987, maybe I’m wrong after all…) and should be something that we cherish and embrace. I hope you enjoyed this poem as much as I did.