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On Problems -- Piet Hein

What collection of epigrams would be complete without at least one of Hein's
sparkling little grooks? Here's one of my favourites...
(Poem #668) On Problems
Our choicest plans
  have fallen through
our airiest castles
  tumbled over
because of lines
  we neatly drew
and later neatly
  stumbled over.
-- Piet Hein
If ever someone deserved the label of 'Renaissance Man', it was surely Piet
Hein[1], mathematician, scientist, inventor, engineer, artist, poet and
above all, genius. It would be hard to say what the most significant of
Hein's many accomplishments was, but high among them is surely the invention
and perfection of the grook.

[1] and all the actual Renaissance men, of course <g>

Hein has left behind a body of work consisting of around 10000 of these
grooks - an impressive achievement by any standard. But what exactly is a
grook? 'Grook' ('gruk' in Danish) is a word invented by Hein to describe his
short, aphoristic poems. There being no formal definition, the best I can do
is try to capture the unmistakable, but surprisingly elusive spirit
underlying Hein's poems.

Pithy, perceptive, varying from the gently quirky to the funny, and with a
deceptively simple style that hides their richly multifaceted nature while
robbing it of none of its impact - the average grook reads like something
between a nursery rhyme and a proverb, and like them, is absolutely
distinctive. Indeed, that is what most impresses me about Hein's grooks -
how, with very little in the way of formal structure, they manage to be so
strongly stamped with his very individual style.

As for today's poem - not only does it speak for itself; it does so far
better than I could hope to.


Here's an excellent biography:

Particularly nice to find was Hein's quote on his invention of the
superellipse - "Man is the animal that draws lines which he himself then
stumbles over." A rare insight into the genesis of a grook - compare this
quote with the polished verse form above.

Hein not only wrote and translated all his grooks, he illustrated them too.
Here's a sampling: [broken link]

Doing a google search on grooks brings up several pages full of them -
here're some of the biggest collections
- [broken link]

While Hein's grooks are out of print in English, and hence hard to find,
they do appear to be getting reprinted:
[broken link]

Amazingly enough, the Britannica does not have an entry for Hein; he is
mentioned in passing in their article on the Soma Cube.


46 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Lila said...

According to what I can see on the 'Net, it seems that Borgens Forlag in
Copenhagen, Denmark is now printing quantities of Grooks IN ENGLISH.

Are you sure that the illustrations provided in the familiar Grook books
were produced by Piet, and not by Jens Arup?

Jon Peltier said...

Nice short collection on Piet Hein. Unfortunately both links to collections of
his Grooks are not working.

- Jon Peltier

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