Math and Poetry

You might be aware that April is Mathematics Awareness Month (this year’s theme is ‘Mathematics of Sustainability’). April is also National Poetry Month, and while it might seem a funny coincidence that these two separate disciplines are celebrated at the same time, math and poetry have more in common than you might think. As Jean Joseph pointed out earlier this month, the Persian mathematician Omar Khayyam was also a prolific poet. The Journal of Online Mathematics and Its Applications discusses several poems with mathematical influences, sorting them into two categories: those that utilize mathematical imagery and those that are structured mathematically. Mathematical imagery might include geometric descriptions or allusions to theorems; a mathematically structured poem might prescribe a strict syllable count, similar to a haiku, or have a strong visual component—the physical layout of the words might construct a triangle or other shape.

When I was an undergraduate, I studied both writing and mathematics, so it’s very fun for me to think about ways the subjects might intersect. One of my favorite mathematically-themed poems is “Equation,” by Caroline Caddy. I think it’s a really lovely poem, as well as a really good description of how it feels to work your way through something frustrating and yet enjoy the experience, which is often how doing math feels to me. Here is the first stanza, and if you follow the link, you can read the rest at the Poetry Foundation.

(from “Equation” by Caroline Caddy):

Someone said

that working through difficult equations

was like walking

in a pure and beautiful landscape –

the numbers glowing

like works of art.


About Maya Sharma

Maya Sharma is studying for her MS in mathematics at Loyola University Chicago.
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