Wednesday, 13 May 2015

grooks or squaring the circle

During the Nazi occupation of Denmark poly-math turned resistance-fighter by the name of Piet Hein published thousands (a body of some seven-thousand in his lifetime) of short, aphoristic poems that really went above the heads of their oppressors but were immediately understood and spread virally by the Danish people. Hein called these concentrated verses grooks (gruks, which Hein maintained was purely a nonsense word but some suggest it is a portmanteau of laugh plus sigh) and one particularly poignant one illustrates the heartbreak of conquest, vacillating between indecision, flight or taking up arms:

Consolation Grook
Losing one glove
is certainly painful,
but nothing
compared to the pain,
of losing one, throwing away the other,
and finding the first one again.

There are multitudes to discover on every subject and I am sure that anyone could find one that resonates.

Problems worthy of attack
prove their worth
by hitting back.

Or for the melancholy Dane, finding resolve when least expecting it:

A Psychological Tip
Whenever you're called on to make up your mind,

and you're hampered by not having any,
the best way to solve the dilemma,
you'll find, is simply by spinning a penny.
No -- not so that chance shall decide the affair
while you're passively standing there moping;
but the moment the penny is up in the air,
you suddenly know what you're hoping.

After the war, Hein continued to formulate grooks of course but also turned his attention to other word play in the form of language games and logic puzzles. Returning to his mathematical and engineering prowess, having mentally spared with Niels Bohr and other luminaries, Hein also devised an architectural compromise that embraced both the rectilinear and the round in the form of what’s called the superegg, which came to typify Scandinavian Mid-Century design and architecture.