The Mathematician


That man had mastered calculus
And algebra with ease,
Geometry, analysis,
And even PDEs;

Boole, Abel, Cauchy, Dirichlet–
He knew them and their lore,
Along with Euler and Fourier
And Gauss, and many more.

Yet not content for all of this
With one result unproved,
He paces, frowning, slumberless
Till all doubt be removed;

He thinks what beauty and what light,
If only it were shown,
Resolved at last to sit and write
Until the proof is known.

As Beowulf prepared his steel,
By battle burnished bright,
Or fleet Achilles took his shield
To glory in the fight,

As Samson grasped the pillars thick
To undermine the roof,
So did his eager fingers pick
The pencil for the proof.

Eye of frog from foggy fen,
Bat brains for my brew
Is what he might have written then
For all that mortals knew;

How do I love thee, let me count,
Was what it said to him,
Ascend steep Purgatory’s mount
And Heaven’s starry rim.

How long he’d labored lost in love,
The story does not say–
Perhaps for forty years he strove,
Perhaps one endless day–

But many generations-full
Of dreams and hopes destroyed
Had battered his relentless soul
And left a weary void.

At last he lifts his heavy head,
As if to watch the air;
A savage twinkle ringed with red
Enflames his single stare;

His pencil automatically
Careens across the page;
He skims it, scribbles QED,
Then stops, stunned, for an age.

He looked outside his window then,
When many whiles had passed,
A bus came by, and he got in.
That theorem was his last.

Art of a Mathematician