Sonnets from Laxenburg

on the numbers from zero to ten; by Kenneth E. Boulding

A short excerpt from Kenneth E. Boulding's Sonnents From Laxenburg on the numbers from zero to ten (Copyright Kenneth E. Boulding, 1981):


This is the greatest number of them all
Disguised as a mere point making a graph
But underneath, a diabolic laugh,
An infinite abyss in which to fall
Of nothingness.  No Thing can more appall
Than nothing - no, no rope, no rod, no staff
Can save us from what can't be done by half -
Where nothing is, there's no-one we can call
But if there's anything, then there is hope
For take the smallest thing, divide by zero,
And zoom! springs ups infinity, the hero
That even with clank nothingness can cope
For multiply infinity by nought
And the vast finite universe is wrought.


Before the universes were begun
Beyond the furthest flights of mind and thought
In the great unimaginable, was there nought
Or was there, inconceivably, a One?
But back to earth - when all is said and done
How could arithmetic, or more, be taught
Except by one and one and one - so ought
Not one to be of all our thought the sun?
And here is mystery too - that I am many
Yet one in all my multitudinous parts
Like a great reel of patterned rope that darts
From birth to death.  Yet neither I nor any
One can conceive what power, or what Divinty
Can make a One, our of a near-infinity.


Cleave the whole universe and make it Two
But careful! it can cleave at any place
And two is all we need, for sex, class, race
Talk, sneers, fights, love, to cherish or to rue
With two, teachers can teach and lawyers sue
Two can communicate from face to face
Walk arm in arm, or part, or else embrace
There seems no limit on what two can do!
Two can create new life, two can destroy
A duel can turn two into one, or nought
Two minus one is one, when prey is caught
But one plus one makes three, when ones employ
Ones one, and all alone, for ever more so
But split it into two, and off we go!

e (2.71828)

Along the road, somewhere 'twixt two and three
There is a most strange monument to time
When roughly five-sevenths of the way you climb
You sense it, though its shape you cannot see
Mathematicians call it simply "e"
It may seem to have no reason and less rhyme
But just put out to interest a thin dime
Continuously compounded, sleasily
Growing each moment at an annual rate
At which by simple interest it would double
In one year's time.  Then, without any trouble
You'll find not tow, but e dimes on your plate -
Though nineteen-sevenths of a sum of money
Only in mathematics isn't funny.


Two's company, and three, of course, a crowd
Two can do much, but three can do much more
Two love or fight - a third can keep the score
Three make three different pairs, if that's allowed
The odd one out may - or may not - be cowed,
But without three, where is the playwright's lore,
Who would we hiss, and who would we adore?
How could I know the sun, but for the cloud?
And then, of course, there is the trinity
Far beyond dialectics - First, Potential,
That must be realised in an essential
Script or score.  That to be heard must be
Played - with high spirit, if not always holy
All in one pattern, yet Three, not one solely.

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Last edited: 01 August 2017


Monika Bauer

IIASA Network and Alumni Officer Communications and External Relations Department

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