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Friday 2009-12-11


George Herbert's beautiful poemLove bade me welcome” has been a favourite of mine for so long that I was very embarrassed to find in a book about something quite different the following observation, which in retrospect is absolutely obvious: it must have originated in a pun on the word “host”, even though that word never appears in the poem.

There's something rather delightful about that. The following joke, which I stole from Math Overflow, has the same feature. My apologies to any readers who happen not to be in the intersection of the two cultures on which it depends. (I worry that part of its appeal lies exactly there; in-group humour.) “Q. What do you call it when you're trying to prove that a map is injective, but you just can't do it? A. Monic fail.”

Any mathematician reading this who happens to have a copy of Littlewood's Miscellany might want to look up Thorin's proof of a theorem of Riesz, in the section entitled “Mathematics with minimum raw material”, where once again the crucial piece of the puzzle is something that isn't there.

(Random geeky note about the Herbert poem: It's frequently titled “Love (III)”, but G.H. never gave it that title. He just called it “Love”, but he also wrote another earlier pair of poems titled “Love” and numbered I,II. So his editor decided to call this later one “Love (III)”. Aren't you glad you know that?)

(Random geeky note about names of things other than poems: So far as I can tell, the fact that in northern Cambridge there are a George Street and a Herbert Street near to one another, and also a Gilbert Road and a Chesterton Road near to one another, is mere coincidence.)