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01 February 2011

The Tip of the Bud of the Lotus

In a certain lake swarming with geese and cranes,
The tip of a bud of lotus was seen one span above the water.

Forced by the wind, it gradually moved, and was submerged at a distance of two cubits.
O mathematician, tell quickly the depth of the water.


There is something divine in the science
of numbers. Like God, it holds the sea
in the hollow of its hand. It measures
the earth; it weighs the stars; it illumines
the universe; it is law, it is order,
it is beauty. And yet we imagine
that its highest end and culminating point
is book-keeping by double entry.

Lilavati, a 12th-century Sanskrit text by Bhaskaracharya, presents mathematics in memorable verse (translation by Shreevatsa). The poem itself is taken from Longfellow's novel Kavanagh, where a character poses problems from the text to his wife to show that maths can be poetic, as published on Futility Closet. Submitted by Gabriel Smy.