Fibs

In 2006, screenwriter Gregory K. Pincus invited the readers of his blog to submit “Fibs,” poems of six lines whose syllable counts reflect the Fibonacci sequence:

One
Small,
Precise,
Poetic,
Spiraling mixture:
Math plus poetry yields the Fib.

Predictably, this took off on Slashdot, where it spawned a thousand variations:

01 It
01 is
02 really
03 not taxing
05 to create a Fib,
08 but still they are interesting
13 sequences of numbers. We are familiar with
21 the ‘rabbit generation’ origins of the sequence, but it can also describe
34 the number of petals on a flower, or the number of curves on a sunflower head, on a pineapple, or even on a pinecone.

And from there it expanded around the world. “The success of this story was entirely because the poem was based on the Fibonacci sequence,” Slashdot founder Rob Malda told the Poetry Foundation. “Geeks love interesting number sequences, and that one is way up there. Generally speaking literature by itself isn’t our typical subject matter, but interesting use of math definitely is.”

“To my surprise (and joy), I continue to find new threads of Fibs popping up all around the Web,” wrote Pincus, who eventually parlayed the idea into a novel. “I’ve seen Fibs in over a dozen different languages, and I’d also note that today a cat left a post in the comments of The Fib, joining a priorly poetic dog, so I think it’s safe to say that Fibs travel well.”

Math Limericks

There was an old man who said, “Do
Tell me how I’m to add two and two!
I’m not very sure
That it does not make four,
But I fear that is almost too few.”

A mathematician confided
A Möbius strip is one-sided.
You’ll get quite a laugh
If you cut one in half,
For it stays in one piece when divided.

A mathematician named Ben
Could only count modulo ten.
He said, “When I go
Past my last little toe,
I have to start over again.”

By Harvey L. Carter:

‘Tis a favorite project of mine
A new value of π to assign.
I would fix it at 3,
For it’s simpler, you see,
Than 3.14159.

J.A. Lindon points out that 1264853971.2758463 is a limerick:

One thousand two hundred and sixty
four million eight hundred and fifty
three thousand nine hun-
dred and seventy one
point two seven five eight four six three.

From Dave Morice, in the November 2004 Word Ways:

A one and a one and a one
And a one and a one and a one
And a one and a one
And a one and a one
Equal ten. That’s how adding is done.

(From Through the Looking-Glass:)

‘And you do Addition?’ the White Queen asked. ‘What’s one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Alice. ‘I lost count.’

‘She can’t do Addition,’ the Red Queen interrupted.

Two classics, one from Leigh Mercer:

\displaystyle \frac{12 + 144 + 20 + 3 \sqrt{4}}{7} + \left ( 5 \times 11 \right ) = 9^{2} + 0

A dozen, a gross, and a score
Plus three times the square root of four
Divided by seven
Plus five times eleven
Is nine squared and not a bit more.

And another anonymous:

\displaystyle \int_{1}^{\sqrt[3]{3}}z^{2}dz \times \textup{cos} \frac{3\pi }{9} = \textup{ln} \sqrt[3]{e}

The integral z-squared dz
From one to the cube root of three
Times the cosine
Of three pi over nine
Equals log of the cube root of e.

UPDATE: Reader Jochen Voss found this on a blackboard at Warwick University:

If M’s a complete metric space
(and non-empty), it’s always the case:
If f’s a contraction
Then, under its action,
Exactly one point stays in place.

And Trevor Hawkes sent this:

A mathematician called Klein
Thought the Möbius strip was divine.
He said if you glue
The edges of two
You get a nice bottle like mine.

Recycling Poetry

pimenta anagram

In 1987, Portuguese poet Alberto Pimenta took the sonnet Transforma-se o amador na cousa amada (The lover becomes the thing he loves), by the 16th-century poet Luís de Camões, and rearranged the letters of each line to produce a new sonnet, Ousa a forma cantor! Mas se da namorada (Dare the form, songster! But if the girlfriend).

Here’s Camões’ (curiously apposite) original poem, translated by Richard Zenith:

The lover becomes the thing he loves
by virtue of much imagining;
since what I long for is already in me,
the act of longing should be enough.
If my soul becomes the beloved,
what more can my body long for?
Only in itself will it find peace,
since my body and soul are linked.
But this pure, fair demigoddess,
who with my soul is in accord
like an accident with its subject,
exists in my mind as a mere idea;
the pure and living love I’m made of
seeks, like simple matter, form.

Carlota Simões and Nuno Coelho of the University of Coimbra calculated that the letters in Camões’ sonnet can be rearranged within their lines in 5.3 × 10312 possible ways.

Interestingly, after Pimenta’s anagramming there were two letters left over, L and C, which are the initials of the original poet, Luís de Camões. “It seems that, in some mysterious and magical way, Luís de Camões came to reclaim the authorship of the second poem as well.”

In 2014, when designer Nuno Coelho challenged his multimedia students to render the transformation, Joana Rodrigues offered this:

Related: In 2005 mathematician Mike Keith devised a scheme to generate 268,435,456 Shakespearean sonnets, each a line-by-line anagram of the others. And see Choice and Fiction.

(Carlota Simões and Nuno Coelho, “Camões, Pimenta and the Improbable Sonnet,” Recreational Mathematics Magazine 1:2 [September 2014], 11-19.)

“A Very Descript Man”

I am such a dolent man,
I eptly work each day;
My acts are all becilic,
I’ve just ane things to say.

My nerves are strung, my hair is kempt,
I’m gusting and I’m span:
I look with dain on everyone
And am a pudent man.

I travel cognito and make
A delible impression:
I overcome a slight chalance,
With gruntled self-possession.

My dignation would be great
If I should digent be:
I trust my vagance will bring
An astrous life for me.

— J.H. Parker

From Schott’s Vocab. (Thanks, Jacob.)

Back Channels

In 1863 Union soldiers seized a bag of rebel correspondence as it was about to cross Lake Pontchartrain. In one of the letters, a woman named Anna boasted of a trick she’d played on a Boston newspaper — she’d sent them a poem titled “The Gypsy’s Wassail,” which she assured them was written in Sanskrit:

Drol setaredefnoc evarb ruo sselb dog
Drageruaeb dna htims nosnhoj eel
Eoj nosnhoj dna htims noskcaj pleh
Ho eixid ni stif meht evig ot

The paper published this “beautiful and patriotic poem, by our talented contributor.” A few days later a reader discovered the trick — it was simply English written in reverse:

God bless our brave Confederates, Lord!
Lee, Johnson, Smith, and Beauregard!
Help Jackson, Smith, and Johnson Joe,
To give them fits in Dixie, oh!

She had signed her name only “Anna,” but in the same bag they found a letter from her sister to her husband, saying “Anna writes you one of her amusing letters,” and this contained her signature and address. Union general Wickham Hoffman wrote to her: “I told her that her letter had fallen into the hands of one of those ‘Yankee’ officers whom she saw fit to abuse, and who was so pleased with its wit that he should take great pleasure in forwarding it to its destination; that in return he had only to ask that when the author of ‘The Gypsy’s Wassail’ favored the expectant world with another poem, he might be honored with an early copy. Anna must have been rather surprised.”

(From Hoffman’s 1877 memoir Camp, Court and Siege.)

“A Brief in Rhyme”

From the Ohio Law Reporter: In 1916 a defendant filed this brief in the Court of Common Pleas in Fayette County, Ohio:

The sages of old with reason assumed
The shorter the horse the sooner he’s groomed;
And so with this case and the questions involved,
They’re exceedingly brief and speedily solved.

The plaintiff below was a broker, it seems,
And perhaps being broke, saw a fee in his dreams,
He had from one Ellis a small farm to sell
And likewise, from Strobel, a town-lot as well.

One day on the street by accident strange
He met Mr. Strobel and proposed an exchange.
He also, quite prudently, spoke of the fee
And told Brother Strobel how much it would be.

He stated both principals ought to agree
On the portion each party would pay of said fee.
“Very well,” then said Strobel, “I’ll trade for his farm,
And as for your fee, have not an alarm,

“Go straight and see Ellis, and get him to say
How much of said fee he’ll be willing to pay.”
The broker then started to see Mr. Ellis,
And now his reply Brother Ellis will tell us:

“I’ll pay just $2, and no more,” said he;
“Of the said $16 you charge as your fee.
If Strobel won’t trade upon that I’d as well
Keep my money and let the — trade go — a spell.”

Then the broker returned and reported to Strobel
Who sanctioned the terms in these words grand and noble
“$2 from 16 leaves 14 for me
And this I will pay you, to make up your fee;

“Day-after-tomorrow I’ll pay you a V
And the rest in installments — to this I agree;
Go close up the deal as soon as can be,
The sooner the better for you and for me.”

So the deal was soon closed and the deeds passed, you bet
But that “day-after-tomorrow” has never come yet
And that was the day Strobel promised to pay
That first V installment in such a sure way.

The evidence shows that when Strobel sent
The broker to see Mr. Ellis, he went
And did everything he required that he should
And tried to get Ellis to pay all he could.

And now I submit, Your Honor, to you
In absence of proof to a contrary view,
The law will presume good faith in this case
And order the broker to win in the race.

(signed) W.E. MAYNARD
Washington Court House, Ohio

“Of the result of his effort we are not informed,” reports the journal, “but it no doubt was given ‘careful consideration.'”

“The Song of the Yellow Cork”

A golden cork is, mirror-wise,
shown by a polished shelf;
yet, even if endowed with eyes,
it could not see itself.

This is because it stands aligned
with its reflected view;
but if it sideways is inclined,
such is no longer true.

O man, suppose you did reflect
straight up, let’s say, in space:
Would this not have the same effect
as in the stated case?

— Christian Morgenstern, 1905

The Spring (Arrangements) Bill

https://pixabay.com/en/spring-awakening-spring-1197602/

In 1936 English humorist A.P. Herbert found himself sitting in Parliament as an independent member for Oxford University. He drafted the following bill in verse to honor the new season — it’s a shame that it wasn’t enacted:

Whereas in every lawn and bed the plucky crocus lifts his head, and to and fro sweet song-birds go, the names of which we do not know:

Whereas the woods no more are dumb, the Boat Race and the Budget come, the Briton swells his manly chest, his mate, as eager, scrubs the nest, and Spring, with light but lavish hand, is spreading madness o’er the land:

It is expedient — but in rhyme — to legislate for such a time: Be it enacted, therefore, by our King with Lords and Commons in a fairy ring, assembled joyously at Westminister (or any other place that they prefer):

Provision for a Season Called Spring

1. (i) It shall be lawful everywhere for citizens to walk on air, to hang their hats upon the trees and wander hatless if they please: and notwithstanding any cracked provision in a previous Act, to give a constable a kiss is not felonious after this.

(ii) All citizens who choose to ride on taxi-tops and not inside: and those who do not use their votes because they’re busy painting boats: and any miscreant who hums, instead of doing dismal sums: whoever does a silly thing need only answer “‘Tis the Spring”: and this shall be a good defence in any court with any sense:

Provided that, in late July, this Act, of course, does not apply.

Financial Provisions

2. If any person feels he must get out of London now or bust, because the Spring is in his bones, but he must work for Mr. Jones, it shall be lawful for the same to give the Treasury his name, and say “Upon sufficient grounds I want about a hundred pounds”: and there shall not be any fuss concerning sums expended thus.

Repeal of Redundant Statutes

3. Subsection (i) of Section Four of any Act that seems a bore, and all the Acts concerning beer, and every Act that is not clear (always excepting Schedule A), shall be repealed and thrown away.

House of Commons — Reform of Procedure — Music etc.

4. (i) There shall be banks of maidenhair arranged about the Speaker’s chair: and roses white and roses red shall hang above the Speaker’s head: like some tremendous window-box, the Galleries be gay with phlox: and goldfish, lovely but aloof, shall swim above the glassy roof.

(ii) From now until the First of June all speeches shall be sung (in tune). The Speaker shall determine what hon. Members are in tune or not.

(iii) When in Committee of Supply the House may hum (but not too high). The Clerk-Assistant-at-the-Table shall choose the key (if he is able).

(iv) A band shall nearly always play (not on the first Allotted Day) behind the Speaker’s Chair at three and on the Terrace after tea.

Saving for Committees

5. On any day in May or June Committees shall adjourn quite soon: Provided, if the cuckoo call, Committees shall not sit at all.

Sittings of the Upper House

6. The House of Lords shall never sit on sunny days till after Whit: and they shall rise, if they have met, when it is foggy, fine or wet.

Termination of Official Report

7. (i) Except as hereinafter hinted, Hansard shall not again be printed, and save as in this Act is learned, all previous Hansards shall be burned.

(ii) It is a pity, history teaches, to make reports of people’s speeches, and afterwards to be unkind, simply because they change their mind. It is a most disgusting thing to make such comments in the Spring: so, as from when this Act is passed, that day’s Report shall be the last.

(iii) And as regards exceptions, see Subheading (a) of Schedule B.

Powers and Duties of Departments

8. (i) The secretary of State for Home Affairs shall now proceed to Rome, to Moscow, Washington, Cathay, or anywhere that’s far away, and not return to English skies until the Speaker certifies that Spring has ceased to be a fact under the Moss (Collection) Act.

(ii) Meanwhile o’er all his grim domain a lovely golden girl shall reign: and this delicious creature shall give golden parties in the Mall (paying the bills, if she is dunned, from the Consolidated Fund). The Civil Service, hand in hand, shall dance in masses down the Strand: and all the Cabinet shall wear wild dandelions in their hair.

(iii) It shall be deemed that every one has come into the world for fun. This shall be printed on the wall of every office in Whitehall.

Penalties for Certain Expressions

9. (i) No kind of crisis shall excuse a man exploring avenues: no lesser doom does he deserve when he is straining every nerve: and special punishment is earned by those who leave no stone unturned.

(ii) The penalty for each offence shall be elastic but immense.

(iii) A pension shall reward the man who modestly does all he can.

Interpretation

10. (i) The greatest care has been employed to make this measure null and void: not one expression in this Act means anything it means in fact.

(ii) Examples we decline to give: the lawyers, after all, must live.

Application

11. This Act applies and shall be good where anybody thinks it should:

Provided that, if strong objection should be expressed to any Section, that Section shall not have effect except for those who don’t object.

SCHEDULE B (a)

Any speech, motion, question, amendment or interruption by

A.P.H.

Self-Service

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Honor%C3%A9_Daumier_-_Dandy.jpeg

A Mrs. Harris published this verse in Golden Days on Oct. 10, 1885:

He squanders recklessly his cash
In cultivating a mustache;
A shameless fop is Mr. Dude,
Vain, shallow, fond of being viewed.
‘Tis true that he is quite a swell —
A smile he has for every belle;
What time he has to spare from dress
Is taken up with foolishness —
A witless youth, whose feeble brain
Incites him oft to chew his cane.
Leave dudes alone, nor ape their ways,
Male readers of these Golden Days.

It reads so naturally that it’s surprising to find that it contains a double acrostic: Taking the fourth letter of each line spells out QUANTITATIVE, and taking the last letter spells out HEEDLESSNESS.

Coming and Going

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amphisbaena.png

Edmund Wilson’s 1948 poem “The Pickerel Pond” has a novel feature — backward rhymes:

The lake lies with never a ripple
A lymph to lave sores from a leper
The sand white as salt in an air
That has filtered and tamed every ray;

Below limpid water, those lissome
Scrolleries scribbled by mussels
The floating dropped feathers of gulls;
A leech like a lengthening slug

That shrinks at a touch, ink and orange;
A child’s wrecked Rio Janeiro,
One fortress of which flies a reed
The cleft and quick prints of a deer …

Each pair of line endings (ripple/leper, air/ray) reverse one another in pronunciation, reflecting the pond’s mirror-like surface. They’re called amphisbaenic rhymes, after the amphisbaena, a Greek monster whose two heads allow it to move in either direction. Wilson’s poem contains 70 twisting stanzas of such rhymes.