Piet Hein’s poems are like waking up to 18 unexpected inches of snow and school’s canceled

A question as I read Collected Grooks I, by Piet Hein, concerned the language of authorship. Were they written in Danish or English? The rhymes are so ingenious, and some of the old forms of words so specific, that they couldn’t have been translated from Danish to English.

Or was I wrong?

I have no idea about my "Kayak alert Aug 10" note.
I have no idea about my “Kayak alert Aug 10” note.

Now that I’ve finished the volume and searched around, I find that Hein did write in English, but he also wrote in Danish and did the translating.

And sometimes he wrote in Spanish!

Whatever the method, Collected Grooks I contains one delight after the next. (Grook is a made-up word to describe his short, aphoristic style.) Themes include sex, God and religion, nature’s beauty, human nature and society, hedonism, family, philosophy, and commerce.

I tend to read superficially, so I missed the political allegory of Consolation Grook. It was composed after he joined the Danish underground during World War Two:

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.

As I’ve learned, the grook, written in Danish, admonishes his compatriots not to collaborate with Nazi occupiers.

What other profundities had I missed?

I did make note of Hein’s vocabulary: ex cathedra, pantechnicon, asperity, diurnity, pelf, panegyrecists, and coloquint, which latter is not found in my short OED.

Then there’s his penchant for making up words, as he also made up puzzles and games. Atomyriades, circumscripture, middlemum, elephantasy, philosophistry, philo-sophisticism: my typing of these coinages drives Microsoft Word crazy!

The grook Polymania has it all:

Clearly the Fates

were in one of their spins,

and what became me

was intended as quins.

So all my sublime

aspirations are vain,

with five of me kneading

our thoughts in my brain.

imagesEach turn of the page is like waking up and finding eighteen unexpected inches of snow and the announcement of school’s cancelation.

Two of my favorite grooks concern long-winded writers and esoteric poets. Of the former, Hein demands to be given “the ones who tear and gnaw/their hair and pens to tatters.” Sometimes, you feel like having a nut, not the whole almond grove.

Each grook is accompanied by a charming drawing. Piet Hein started out to be a painter. In the end, he wrote about 7000 grooks. And consider his additional achievements in math, science, and design. If someone reveals he was also a virtuoso musician and composed nine symphonies, I wouldn’t be surprised.

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