My Dance is Mathematics


               Amalie "Emmy" Noether was born in Germany (1882); she studied mathematics

as an unofficial student at German universities.  Because of her gender she was unable

to secure employment except as a substitute for her mentors intheir classes;  Noether fled

the Nazis in 1933 and died (in 1935, of cancer) in Bryn Mawr, Pennsyvania.


They called you der  Noether, as if mathematics

was only for men.  In 1964, nearly thirty years

past your death, I saw you in a spotlight

in a World's Fair mural, "Men of Modern Mathematics."


Colleagues praised your brilliance -- but after

they had called you fat and plain, rough and loud.

Some mentioned kindness and good humor

though none, in your lifetime, admitted it was you

who led the way to axiomatic algebra.

Direct and courageous, lacking self-concern,

elegant of mind, a poet of logical ideas.


At a party when you were eight years old

you spoke up to solve a hard math puzzle. 

Fearless, you set yourself apart. 


I followed you.  I saw you choose

between mathematics and other romance.

For women only, this exclusive standard.


I heard fathers say, "Dance with Emmy --

just once, early in the evening.  Old Max

is my friend; his daughter likes to dance."


If a woman's dance is mathematics,

she dances alone.


Mothers said, "Don't tease.  That strange one's heart

is kind.  She helps her mother with the house

and cannot help her curious mind."


Teachers said, "She's smart but stubborn,

contentious and loud, a theory-builder

not persuaded by our ideas."


Students said, "She's hard to follow, bores me." 

A few stood firm and built new algebras

on her exacting formulations.


In spite of Emmy's talents,

always there were reasons

not to give her rank

or permanent employment.

She's a pacifist, a woman.

She's a woman and a Jew.

Her abstract thinking

is female and abstruse.


Today, history books say Noether

is the greatest mathematician

her sex has produced. 

They say she was good

for a woman.


This poem and other "mathematical" poems by JoAnne Growney are available in My Dance is Mathematics, published in 2006 by Paper Kite Press. and available from JoAnne.  This poem also is included in the anthology:  Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics (A K Peters, 2008).