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.

(From Longfellow’s novel Kavanagh, preceded by a translation from Bhaskaracharya’s 12th-century Sanskrit text Lilavati, via The Lumber Room)