Rankine’s “The Mathematician in Love”

The 1874 poem “The Mathematician in Love” by Scottish mechanical engineer William Rankine (in the book From Songs and Fables) has been published in many places (e.g., poetry.com, New Scientist and the scanned version is available at the internet archive. However, the mathematical equations Rankine presented at the end of his poem are only available in the scanned versions. As WordPress can render LaTeX, the poem quoted below includes those last few lines.

The Mathematician in Love
William J. M. Rankine


A mathematician fell madly in love
With a lady, young, handsome, and charming:
By angles and ratios harmonic he strove
Her curves and proportions all faultless to prove,
As he scrawled hieroglyphics alarming.


He measured with care, from the ends of a base.
The arcs which her features subtended:
Then he framed transcendental equations, to trace
The flowing outlines of her figure and face.
And thought the result very splendid.


He studied (since music has charms for the fair)
The theory of fiddles and whistles, —
Then composed, by acoustic equations, an air,
Which, when ’twas performed, made the lady’s long hair
Stand on end, like a porcupine’s bristles.


The lady loved dancing: – he therefore applied.
To the polka and waltz, an equation;
But when to rotate on his axis he tried.
His centre of gravity swayed to one side.
And he fell, by the earth’s gravitation.


No doubts of the fate of his suit made him pause.
For he proved, to his own satisfaction.
That the fair one returned his affection; – “because,
As every one knows, by mechanical laws,
Re-action is equal to action.”


“Let x denote beauty, – y manners well-bred, –
x, Fortune, – (this last is essential), –
Let L stand for love” – our philosopher said, –
“Then z is a function of x, y and 0,
Of the kind which is known as potential.”


“Now integrate L with respect to dt,
(t Standing for time and persuasion);
Then, between proper limits, ’tis easy to see,
The definite integral Marriage must be: —
(A very concise demonstration).”


Said he – “If the wandering course of the moon
By Algebra can be predicted,
The female affections must yield to it soon” –
But the lady ran off with a dashing dragoon,
And left him amazed and afflicted.

End notes:
Equation referred to in Stanza VI.–
L=\phi(x,y,z)= \int\int\int \frac{f(x,y,z)}{\sqrt{(x-\xi)^2+(y-\nu)^2+(z-\zeta)^2}} \, d\xi d\nu d\zeta
Equation referred to in Stanza VII.–
\int_{-\infty}^\infty L\, dt = M

Sestinas and Sage

According to [1], a sestina is a highly structured poem consisting of six six-line stanzas followed by a tercet (called its envoy or tornada), for a total of thirty-nine lines. The same set of six words ends the lines of each of the six-line stanzas, but in a shuffled order each time. The shuffle used is very similar to the Mongean shuffle.

Define f_n(k) =  2k, if k <= n/2 and f_n(k) = 2n+1-2k, if k > n/2. Let p = (p_1,...,p_n) \in S_n, where p_j = f_n(p_{j-1}) and S_n is the symmetric group of order n. From [2], we have the following result.

Theorem: If p is an n-cycle then 2n+1 is a prime.

Call such a prime a “sestina prime”. Which primes are sestina primes?

Here is Python/Sage code for this permutation:

def sestina(n):
    Computes the element of the symmetric group S_n associated to the shuffle above. 
        sage: sestina(4)
        sage: sestina(6)
        sage: sestina(8)
        sage: sestina(10)
        sage: sestina(12)
        sage: sestina(14)
        sage: sestina(16)
        sage: sestina(18)
        sage: sestina(20) (1,2,4,8,16,9,18,5,10,20)(3,6,12,17,7,14,13,15,11,19) 
        sage: sestina(22) (1,2,4,8,16,13,19,7,14,17,11,22)(3,6,12,21)(5,10,20)(9,18) 

    def fcn(k, n):
        if k<=int(n/2): 
            return 2*k 
            return 2*n+1-2*k 
    L = [fcn(k,n) for k in range(1,n+1)] 
    G = SymmetricGroup(n) 
    return G(L)

And here is an example due to Ezra Pound [3]:


Damn it all! all this our South stinks peace.
You whoreson dog, Papiols, come! Let’s to music!
I have no life save when the swords clash.
But ah! when I see the standards gold, vair, purple, opposing
And the broad fields beneath them turn crimson,
Then howl I my heart nigh mad with rejoicing.


In hot summer have I great rejoicing
When the tempests kill the earth’s foul peace,
And the light’nings from black heav’n flash crimson,
And the fierce thunders roar me their music
And the winds shriek through the clouds mad, opposing,
And through all the riven skies God’s swords clash.


Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
And the shrill neighs of destriers in battle rejoicing,
Spiked breast to spiked breast opposing!
Better one hour’s stour than a year’s peace
With fat boards, bawds, wine and frail music!
Bah! there’s no wine like the blood’s crimson!


And I love to see the sun rise blood-crimson.
And I watch his spears through the dark clash
And it fills all my heart with rejoicing
And prys wide my mouth with fast music
When I see him so scorn and defy peace,
His lone might ’gainst all darkness opposing.


The man who fears war and squats opposing
My words for stour, hath no blood of crimson
But is fit only to rot in womanish peace
Far from where worth’s won and the swords clash
For the death of such sluts I go rejoicing;
Yea, I fill all the air with my music.


Papiols, Papiols, to the music!
There’s no sound like to swords swords opposing,
No cry like the battle’s rejoicing
When our elbows and swords drip the crimson
And our charges ’gainst “The Leopard’s” rush clash.
May God damn for ever all who cry “Peace!”


And let the music of the swords make them crimson
Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
Hell blot black for always the thought “Peace”!


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sestina

[2] Richard Dore and Anton Geraschenko,”Sestinas and Primes” posted to http://stacky.net/wiki/index.php?title=Course_notes, and http://math.berkeley.edu/~anton/written/sestina.pdf

[3] Ezra Pound, “Sestina: Altaforte” (1909), (originally published int the English Review, 1909)

[4] John Bullitt, N. J. A. Sloane and J. H. Conway , http://oeis.org/A019567