Diane Hine

Silver Star - 4,143 Points (25 July 1956)

Evariste Galois - Poem by Diane Hine

A duel, only mist will intervene,
Two men, a line of numbers span between,
The field in which they stand, a complex plane;
Which algebraic equations set this scene?

Not twenty-one, a headstrong youth in vain
Would rather give his life than bear a stain;
A thwarted love and challenge made in haste,
A brilliant, yet impulse blighted brain.

A medley of misfortune interlaced:
Political connivance might be traced,
Collegiate cold shoulders, bookish blots,
A father who could never be replaced.

Equations can be solvable or not,
Republicans can fall in twisted plots,
Solutions can be simple or obscure,
A genius can die by pistol shot.

Poisson, Lacroix: professors who adjure
His papers are unclear and premature
Cannot be blamed they incorrectly found
The fractious innovator immature.

In maths, his rationality was sound;
In life his levelheadedness unwound.
From rational and real one may abscond
To meddle in complexities unbound.

Unsolvable are quintics and beyond,
Unsolvable, the academic monde;
Revolt can soothe a young man’s fitful zeal:
A uniform, a sword, an aim au fond.

In prison, bile and alcohol congeal,
Annihilation tempts through sharpened steel.
Subdued, and sent to a convalescent home,
he’ll meet the doctor’s daughter; fair, genteel.

Spurned suitors see a world in monochrome;
Hot-headed anger roils in mouthy foam.
A duel sought, the night before he'll write
Six pages more incisive than a tome.

A letter scribbled swift by candlelight,
A theory, clarified, distilled, airtight,
The final written words, ‘I have no time',
Before the dawn's mad gentlemanly rite.

The mind would shatter static paradigm
Yet willingly succumb to pantomime.
The rings and groups all serve to multiply
Enigmas which surround ignoble crime.

When higher order problems won't comply
The radical solution is to die,
And in a field asymmetries convene
And answers in the form of lead balls fly.

Topic(s) of this poem: history

Poet's Notes about The Poem

Evariste Galois
French mathematician
25 Oct 1811 - 31 May 1832

Comments about Evariste Galois by Diane Hine

  • Kim Barney (3/28/2015 6:19:00 PM)

    Very well written, Diane.
    Thanks also to Stephen Katona and his information from Wikipedia, which thankfully you did not delete. This was very helpful in understanding the poem, because in my sheltered life I had never heard of Galois before.
    Congrats on Poem of the Day!
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  • Fabrizio Frosini (3/28/2015 8:38:00 AM)

    a very good poem indeed, Diane.. congratulations! :) (Report) Reply

  • (3/28/2015 7:03:00 AM)

    wow, that is quite a poem. It deals with so much about the young man in the duel but also about the complexities of our culture which created the context of the situation. I had to read it 5 times to really take it in and enjoyed it more each time I read it.
    Dick Lackman
    (Report) Reply

  • Stephen Katona (3/28/2015 5:39:00 AM)

    Great poem Diane, you've brought history alive. Please feel free to delete the rather excessive information below from Wikipedia. (Report) Reply

  • Stephen Katona (3/28/2015 5:37:00 AM)

    Évariste Galois (25 October 1811 – 31 May 1832) was a French mathematician born in Bourg-la-Reine. While still in his teens, he was able to determine a necessary and sufficient condition for a polynomial to be solvable by radicals, thereby solving a 350 years-standing problem. His work laid the foundations for Galois theory and group theory, two major branches of abstract algebra, and the subfield of Galois connections. He died at age 20 from wounds suffered in a duel.

    Galois lived during a time of political turmoil in France. Charles X had succeeded Louis XVIII in 1824, but in 1827 his party suffered a major electoral setback and by 1830 the opposition liberal party became the majority. Charles, faced with abdication, staged a coup d'état, and issued his notorious July Ordinances, touching off the July Revolution which ended with Louis-Philippe becoming king. While their counterparts at the Polytechnique were making history in the streets during les Trois Glorieuses, Galois and all the other students at the École Normale were locked in by the school's director. Galois was incensed and wrote a blistering letter criticizing the director, which he submitted to the Gazette des Écoles, signing the letter with his full name. Although the Gazette's editor omitted the signature for publication, Galois was expelled.[7]

    Although his expulsion would have formally taken effect on 4 January 1831, Galois quit school immediately and joined the staunchly Republican artillery unit of the National Guard. He divided his time between his mathematical work and his political affiliations. Due to controversy surrounding the unit, soon after Galois became a member, on 31 December 1830, the artillery of the National Guard was disbanded out of fear that they might destabilize the government. At around the same time, nineteen officers of Galois's former unit were arrested and charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government.

    In April 1831, the officers were acquitted of all charges, and on 9 May 1831, a banquet was held in their honor, with many illustrious people present, such as Alexandre Dumas. The proceedings grew riotous, and Galois proposed a toast to King Louis Philippe with a dagger above his cup, which was interpreted as a threat against the king's life. He was arrested the following day but was acquitted on 15 June 1831.[7][8]

    On the following Bastille Day (14 July 1831) , Galois was at the head of a protest, wearing the uniform of the disbanded artillery, and came heavily armed with several pistols, a rifle, and a dagger. He was again arrested. This time he was sentenced to six months in prison for illegally wearing a uniform.[9] Nine and a half months later, he was released, on 29 April 1832. During his imprisonment, he continued developing his mathematical ideas.

    Galois's fatal duel took place on 30 May. The true motives behind the duel will most likely remain forever obscure. There has been much speculation, much of it spurious, as to the reasons behind it. What is known is that five days before his death, he wrote a letter to Chevalier which clearly alludes to a broken love affair.[3]

    Some archival investigation on the original letters suggests that the woman of romantic interest was a Mademoiselle Stéphanie-Félicie Poterin du Motel, the daughter of the physician at the hostel where Galois stayed during the last months of his life. Fragments of letters from her copied by Galois himself (with many portions either obliterated, such as her name, or deliberately omitted) are available.[11] The letters hint that Mlle. du Motel had confided some of her troubles to Galois, and this might have prompted him to provoke the duel himself on her behalf. This conjecture is also supported by other letters Galois later wrote to his friends the night before he died. Much more detailed speculation based on these scant historical details has been interpolated by many of Galois's biographers (most notably by Eric Temple Bell in Men of Mathematics) , such as the frequently repeated speculation that the entire incident was stage-managed by the police and royalist factions to eliminate a political enemy.[9]

    As to his opponent in the duel, Alexandre Dumas names Pescheux d'Herbinville, one of the nineteen artillery officers whose acquittal was celebrated at the banquet that occasioned Galois's first arrest[8] and du Motel's fiancé.[citation needed] However, Dumas is alone in this assertion, and extant newspaper clippings from only a few days after the duel give a description of his opponent that more accurately applies to one of Galois's Republican friends, most probably Ernest Duchatelet, who was imprisoned with Galois on the same charges. Given the conflicting information available, the true identity of his killer may well be lost to history.

    Whatever the reasons behind the duel, Galois was so convinced of his impending death that he stayed up all night writing letters to his Republican friends and composing what would become his mathematical testament, the famous letter to Auguste Chevalier outlining his ideas, and three attached manuscripts.[12] Mathematician Hermann Weyl said of this testament, This letter, if judged by the novelty and profundity of ideas it contains, is perhaps the most substantial piece of writing in the whole literature of mankind. However, the legend of Galois pouring his mathematical thoughts onto paper the night before he died seems to have been exaggerated.[citation needed] In these final papers, he outlined the rough edges of some work he had been doing in analysis and annotated a copy of the manuscript submitted to the Academy and other papers.

    Early in the morning of 30 May 1832, he was shot in the abdomen and died the following morning at ten o'clock in the Cochin hospital (probably of peritonitis) after refusing the offices of a priest. There were plans to initiate an uprising during his funeral, but during the same time frame the leaders heard of General Jean Maximilien Lamarque's death, and the funeral was postponed without any uprising occurring. Only Galois's younger brother was notified of the events prior to Galois's death.[13] He was 20 years old. His last words to his younger brother Alfred were:

    Ne pleure pas, Alfred! J'ai besoin de tout mon courage pour mourir à vingt ans! (Don't cry, Alfred! I need all my courage to die at twenty.)
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  • Doug Bentley (5/22/2013 3:49:00 PM)

    The finest poem on Evariste Galois that you shall find in the entire history of English poetry. There simply is none better. (Report) Reply

  • Thyris Taylor (5/27/2012 5:21:00 PM)

    A most interesting choice of subject matter. A mind ahead of it's time falls victim to a very backward element of his presence. Great writing, very entertaining. (Report) Reply

  • (5/25/2012 6:10:00 PM)

    This is a great and sustained write of consistent quality and certainly eloquently weaves the tale of what must have been a tempestuous short and at times brilliant life. Thank you for illuminating his existence. (Report) Reply

  • (5/18/2012 10:30:00 PM)

    The neo-classic enamel of your precise poetic construction really shines in this piece, with a plot like something out of Dumas. Such a tragic, impetuous young mathematical genius! Your poem has directed me to this prodigy's highly adventurous, bewilderingly brief 20-year biography. The ingenuity of his achievements in higher mathematics (beyond anything but the barest comprehension by myself) are breathtakingly admirable, while he himself came and went in the blink of an eye. Enough to move one to tears. Thanks, Diane! (Report) Reply

  • (5/16/2012 7:42:00 PM)

    This is so much genius. Great descriptions of the state of mind that must ensue before the duel.
    Last verse- perfect!
    (Report) Reply

  • Valerie Dohren (5/16/2012 1:56:00 PM)

    Awesome Diane, definitely a 10. Never heard of this guy though, and I'm not as clever as you so struggled a bit to follow it, but it is poetically fantastic as always. (Report) Reply

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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Poem Edited: Saturday, March 28, 2015

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