The Invention of Fractions

I guess I’ve been in a poetic mood lately. This comes with a hat-tip to The Writer’s Almanac:

The Invention of Fractions
by Jessica Goodfellow

God himself made the whole numbers: everything else
is the work of man.

—Leopold Kronnecker

God created the whole numbers:
the first born, the seventh seal,
Ten Commandments etched in stone,
the Twelve Tribes of Israel —
Ten we’ve already lost —
forty days and forty nights,
Saul’s ten thousand and David’s ten thousand.
‘Be of one heart and one mind’ —
the whole numbers, the counting numbers.

It took humankind to need less than this;
to invent fractions, percentages, decimals.
Only humankind could need the concepts
of splintering and dividing,
of things lost or broken,
of settling for the part instead of the whole.

Only humankind could find the whole numbers,
infinite as they are, to be wanting;
though given a limitless supply,
we still had no way
to measure what we keep
in our many-chambered hearts.

(If you want to read more from Jessica Goodfellow, buy her book.)

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3 Responses to “The Invention of Fractions”

  1. Tim Says:

    I have half a mind to buy this book.

  2. Mark Grannis Says:

    Ha! I’m partial to more traditional forms of poetry myself, but I’d give my left arm to have written anything as good as this poem.

  3. jim walsh Says:

    It should be “Saul’s thousands and David’s ten thousands” — see 1 Samuel 18:7.


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