The Mathematician in Love

Original Text: 
William J. Macquorn Rankine, Songs and Fables (Glasgow: James Maclehose, 1874): 3-6. 11652.e.19 British Library; PR 5209 R3S6 Robarts Library
1A mathematician fell madly in love
2    With a lady, young, handsome, and charming:
4Her curves and proportions all faultless to prove.
5    As he scrawled hieroglyphics alarming.
6He measured with care, from the ends of a base,
9The flowing outlines of her figure and face,
10    And thought the result very splendid.
11He studied (since music has charms for the fair)
12    The theory of fiddles and whistles, --
13Then composed, by acoustic equations, an air,
14Which, when 'twas performed, made the lady's long hair
15    Stand on end, like a porcupine's bristles.
16The lady loved dancing: -- he therefore applied,
17    To the polka and waltz, an equation;
18But when to rotate on his axis he tried,
19His centre of gravity swayed to one side,
20    And he fell, by the earth's gravitation.
21No doubts of the fate of his suit made him pause,
22    For he proved, to his own satisfaction,
23That the fair one returned his affection; -- "because,
24"As every one knows, by mechanical laws,
25    "Re-action is equal to action."
26"Let x denote beauty, -- y, manners well-bred, --
27    "z, Fortune, -- (this last is essential), --
28"Let L stand for love" -- our philosopher said, --
29"Then L is a function of x, y, and z,
32    "(t Standing for time and persuasion);
33"Then, between proper limits, 'tis easy to see,
34"The definite integral Marriage must be: --
35    "(A very concise demonstration)."
36Said he -- "If the wandering course of the moon
37    "By Algebra can be predicted,
38"The female affections must yield to it soon" --
39-- But the lady ran off with a dashing dragoon,
40    And left him amazed and afflicted.


3] ratios harmonic: harmonic proportion, the relation of three quantities whose reciprocals (inverse relations) are in arithmetical progression. Back to Line
7] subtended: stretched underneath or opposite to. Back to Line
8] transcendental equations: ones resulting only in an infinite series. Back to Line
30] potential: something can be calculated; more amply defined as "a mathematical function or quantity by the differentiation of which the force at any point in space arising from any system of bodies, etc. can be expressed. In the case in which the system consists of separate masses, electrical charges, etc., this quantity is equal to the sum of these, each divided by its distance from the point" (OED "potential" 5). Back to Line
31] integrate: finding a definite integral (cf. line 34) i.e., the numeric difference between the values of a function's indefinite integral for two values of the independent variable. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 2001.