© 2018

Great Circles

The Transits of Mathematics and Poetry


Part of the Mathematics, Culture, and the Arts book series (MACUAR)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xii
  2. A Life in Mathematics and Poetry

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 1-1
    2. Emily Rolfe Grosholz
      Pages 3-18
    3. Emily Rolfe Grosholz
      Pages 19-36
    4. Emily Rolfe Grosholz
      Pages 37-59
    5. Emily Rolfe Grosholz
      Pages 61-82
  3. The Homestead

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 83-83
    2. Emily Rolfe Grosholz
      Pages 97-111
    3. Emily Rolfe Grosholz
      Pages 113-125
  4. Shipping Out

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 127-127
    2. Emily Rolfe Grosholz
      Pages 141-162
  5. The Sky’s the Limit!

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 179-179
    2. Emily Rolfe Grosholz
      Pages 181-204
    3. Emily Rolfe Grosholz
      Pages 205-230
    4. Emily Rolfe Grosholz
      Pages 231-253
    5. Emily Rolfe Grosholz
      Pages 255-260
  6. Back Matter
    Pages 261-274

About this book


This volume explores the interaction of poetry and mathematics by looking at analogies that link them. The form that distinguishes poetry from prose has mathematical structure (lifting language above the flow of time), as do the thoughtful ways in which poets bring the infinite into relation with the finite. The history of mathematics exhibits a dramatic narrative inspired by a kind of troping, as metaphor opens, metonymy and synecdoche elaborate, and irony closes off or shifts the growth of mathematical knowledge.

The first part of the book is autobiographical, following the author through her discovery of these analogies, revealed by music, architecture, science fiction, philosophy, and the study of mathematics and poetry. The second part focuses on geometry, the circle and square, launching us from Shakespeare to Housman, from Euclid to Leibniz. The third part explores the study of dynamics, inertial motion and transcendental functions, from Descartes to Newton, and in 20th c. poetry. The final part contemplates infinity, as it emerges in modern set theory and topology, and in contemporary poems, including narrative poems about modern cosmology.


periodicity and symmetry algebraic topology poetic cosmology complex analysis relativity theory

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

About the authors

Emily Grosholz is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Philosophy at the Pennsylvania State University. She earned her PhD from Yale University and her BA from the University of Chicago. Her most recent philosophy book, Starry Reckoning: Reference and Analysis in Mathematics and Cosmology, was awarded the 2017 Fernando Gil International Prize for Philosophy of Science. She has published eight books of poetry and ten authored or edited books of philosophy, and has written many literary reviews and essays.

Bibliographic information

  • Book Title Great Circles
  • Book Subtitle The Transits of Mathematics and Poetry
  • Authors Emily Rolfe Grosholz
  • Series Title Mathematics, Culture, and the Arts
  • Series Abbreviated Title Mathematics, Culture, and the Arts
  • DOI
  • Copyright Information Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018
  • Publisher Name Springer, Cham
  • eBook Packages Mathematics and Statistics Mathematics and Statistics (R0)
  • Hardcover ISBN 978-3-319-98230-4
  • eBook ISBN 978-3-319-98231-1
  • Series ISSN 2520-8578
  • Series E-ISSN 2520-8586
  • Edition Number 1
  • Number of Pages XII, 274
  • Number of Illustrations 11 b/w illustrations, 31 illustrations in colour
  • Topics Mathematics in the Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Buy this book on publisher's site


“The author is mostly writing for a broad audience, so much of the mathematics is presented so as to be accessible to a not necessarily mathematical audience. … Great Circles provides an interesting example of the human side of mathematics.” (Jason M. Graham, Mathematical Reviews, August, 2019)