Euclid and Whitehead: Found Poem

February 5, 2016

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

A colleague suggested that I re-read Euclid as if his definitions were a poem. Considering I study poetry often, this sounded like a fun exercise. I was unprepared, however, for the depth of insight that followed. I already discussed how important it was for Euclid to be both precise and abstract, but I did not realize how truly applicable this revelation was. Euclid's Elements contain nearly every characteristic of poetry: precise, concise, abstract, yet specific, and most of all, endlessly interconnected. From that exercise, I decided to arrange a few of the passages into a found poem. (A found poem basically takes words and phrases of others and connects them in a poetic format.) The following poem combines words from both Euclid (in italics) and Alfred North Whitehead. Enjoy!

Our Inaccurate Laws


[T]he first noticeable fact

about arithmetic

is that it applies

to everything

to tastes and to sounds

to apples and to angels

to the ideas of the mind and

to the bones of the body


A point is that which has


but not dimension


The nature of things is perfectly



A line is length

without breadth


In a mountainous country distances are often reckoned

in hours


A line which lies evenly between its

extreme points

is called

a straight line


To see what is general in

what is particular

and what is permanent in

what is transitory is

the aim of scientific thought


Any combination of points, of lines, or of points and lines

in a plane

is called a plane figure.


any number x which is greater than 1

gives x + 2 > 3

there are an infinite number of numbers

which answer to the some number

in this case



The vital point

in the application of mathematical formulae is

to have clear ideas and

a correct estimate of their relevance to

the phenomena under observation.


our inaccurate laws may be                   good enough


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