The human aesthetic is strongly rooted in pattern and repetition; we seek symmetry in form in most arts, as well as in science. The mathematician seeks an ‘elegant’ proof above one which demonstrates the same result through contradiction or examination of numerous cases. He prefers one with a ‘symmetry’; many proofs require the logic to follow in both directions at once. The artists or poets seek a similar symmetry in many ways; the metre of poetry is a subtle counting, and the words chosen are a concise reflection of the experience of the poet. He seeks to give his poem a contained, elegant form, with verses and stanzas showing the inner symmetry of thought.
In the language of mathematics, equations are like poetry: They state truths with a unique precision, convey volumes of information in rather brief terms, and often are difficult for the uninitiated to comprehend. And just as conventional poetry helps us to see deep within ourselves, mathematical poetry helps us to see far beyond ourselves-if not all the way up to heaven, then at least out to the brink of the visible universe.
In addition, there are three acts, which are Veni, Vidi, Vici. These are Latin words for “I came, I saw, I conquered”. Veni explains how the main character the scientist-comes to his mysterious subject; Vidi explains historically how that subject came to appear so enigmatic; Vici explains how the scientist manages to conquer the mystery, resulting in a historic equation. Finally, the Epilogue describes how that equation goes on to reshape our lives forever.
Then, the mathematics we choose to hate in school is not the mathematics which, being a part of our soul, we will always love. As Gottfried Leibniz said, “Music is the pleasure the human soul experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.” It is true of all arts, for symmetry and pattern are the manifestations of mathematics.
Furthermore, some of Mathematics educators follow the path taken by our ancestors. It starts with counting in nursery rhyme, we learn about numbers by playing with rhyming words. To teach counting by utilizing the power of poetry to engage learners’ attention and enhance retention of abstract concepts.
Poetry inspired by mathematics appears in the mathematics classroom through the ages, and at all mathematical levels. The nature and frequency of its use as a tool for teaching mathematics fluctuates to reflect technological advances and changing attitudes to mathematics education. But the specific reasons for the inclusion of a poem in a class, the power of poetry to engage attention and enhance memory is always an underlying presence.
In addition to enrichment of pedagogy through engagement and enhancement of retention, poetry is often used in the mathematics classroom to shape course content, to facilitate integration of material, and to ease the transition from theory to applications.
Nowadays, poetry inspired by mathematics shapes course content by focusing attention on a particular aspect of the material taught in class, and acting to initiate class wide or small group discussions, assignments, or projects based on the poem’s content. The right choice of poems and careful project construction often result in additional pedagogical benefits, such as better integration of material and easier transition to its applications.
A different type of poetry project, with similar aims and results, requires students to compose their own poems about mathematical techniques or concepts. The nation-wide education initiative “writing across the curriculum” generated a number of recent pedagogical experiments with poetry writing in college mathematics classes. The poems may be used in the mathematics classroom to enhance pedagogy or course content in any of the ways. They may also be used to enrich history of mathematics courses, and courses focusing on the connections between mathematics and the arts.