Sound Rhymes

Peculiarly English limericks:

There was a young lady named Wemyss,
Who, it semyss, was troubled with dremyss.
She would wake in the night,
And, in terrible fright,
Shake the bemyss of the house with her scremyss.

A pretty school-mistress named Beauchamp,
Said, “These awful boys, how shall I teauchamp?
For they will not behave,
Although I look grave
And with tears in my eyes I beseauchamp.”

There was a professor of Caius
Who measured six feet round the knaius;
He went down to Harwich
Nineteen in a carwich,
And found it a terrible squaius.

There lived a young lady named Geoghegan,
The name is apparently Peoghegan,
She’ll be changing it solquhoun
For that of Colquhoun,
But the date is at present a veoghegan. (W.S. Webb)

An author, by name Gilbert St. John,
Remarked to me once, “Honest t. John,
You really can’t quote
That story I wrote:
My copyright you are infrt. John.” (P.L. Mannock)

See This Sceptred Isle.

Six by Six

The sestina is an unusual form of poetry: Each of its six stanzas uses the same six line-ending words, rotated according to a set pattern:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sestina_system_alt.svg

This intriguingly insistent form has appealed to verse writers since the 12th century. “In a good sestina the poet has six words, six images, six ideas so urgently in his mind that he cannot get away from them,” wrote John Frederick Nims. “He wants to test them in all possible combinations and come to a conclusion about their relationship.”

But the pattern of permutation also intrigues mathematicians. “It is a mathematical property of any permutation of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 that when it is repeatedly combined with itself, all of the numbers will return to their original positions after six or fewer iterations,” writes Robert Tubbs in Mathematics in Twentieth-Century Literature and Art. “The question is, are there other permutations of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 that have the property that after six iterations, and not before, all of the numbers will be back in their original positions? The answer is that there are many — there are 120 such permutations. We will probably never know the aesthetic reason poets settled on the above permutation to structure the classical sestina.”

In 1986 the members of the French experimental writers’ workshop Oulipo began to apply group theory to plumb the possibilities of the form, and in 2007 Pacific University mathematician Caleb Emmons offered the ultimate hat trick: A mathematical proof about sestinas written as a sestina:

emmons sestina

Bonus: When not doing math and poetry, Emmons runs the Journal of Universal Rejection, which promises to reject every paper it receives: “Reprobatio certa, hora incerta.”

(Caleb Emmons, “S|{e,s,t,i,n,a}|“, The Mathematical Intelligencer, December 2007.) (Thanks, Robert and Kat.)

Unfolding Hopes

Albert Szent-Györgyi, who knew a lot about maps
according to which life is on its way somewhere or other,
told us this story from the war
due to which history is on its way somewhere or other:

The young lieutenant of a small Hungarian detachment in the Alps
sent a reconnaissance unit out into the icy wasteland.
It began to snow
immediately, snowed for two days and the unit
did not return. The lieutenant suffered: he had dispatched
his own people to death.

But the third day the unit came back.
Where had they been? How had they made their way?
Yes, they said, we considered ourselves
lost and waited for the end. And then one of us
found a map in his pocket. That calmed us down.
We pitched camp, lasted out the snowstorm and then with the map
we discovered our bearings.
And here we are.

The lieutenant borrowed this remarkable map
and had a good look at it. It was not a map of the Alps
but of the Pyrenees.

Goodbye now.

— From Miroslav Holub, Notes of a Clay Pigeon, reprinted in G.Y. Craig and E.J. Jones, A Geological Miscellany, 1982.

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Priest_Nichiren_praying_under_th_storm.jpg

bedrabble
v. to make wet and dirty with rain and mud

Our change climatic
We think acrobatic
And sigh for a land that is better —
But the German will say,
In a very dry way,
That the weather with him is still Wetter.

— J.R. Joy, Yale Record, 1899

“No, No, Mr. Nash”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ogden_Nash.jpg

Let us begin by saying we have nothing but the deepest aversion
Against casting an aspersion
On the beautiful works of Ogden Nash.
In fact we might say we go for his stuff like a vegetarian goes for his succotash.
But the thing that swerves us
From downright admiration is the length of his lines which sometimes look more like paragraphs than lines — frankly it unnerves us.
In fact we have it from unreliable sources
That several people have narrowly missed death by asphyxiation while attempting to read aloud one of these book-length sentences in one breath, all of which forces
Us to request that Mr. Nash please stick to a line that can be written entirely on one page, for when we see one of these endless lines looming up over the edge of the next stanza, we have been known to turn the page and start something else; while on the other hand, when Mr. Nash sticks to a briefer line with definite rhythm,
We’re whythym.

— An unnamed college humor magazine, quoted in Richard Koppe et al., A Treasury of College Humor, 1950

Punctual

Ernest Hemingway published this “blank verse” in his high school literary magazine in 1916:

hemingway blank verse

Get it? David Morice followed up with this “punctuation poem” in Word Ways in February 2012:

% , & —
+ . ? /
” :
% ;
+ $ [ \

It’s a limerick:

Percent comma ampersand dash
Plus period question mark slash
Quotation mark colon
Percent semicolon
Plus dollar sign bracket backslash

(Thanks, Volodymyr.)

Math and Poetry

In 1972 the Belgian mathematician Edouard Zeckendorf established Zeckendorf’s theorem: that every positive integer can be represented as the sum of non-consecutive Fibonacci numbers in one and only one way.

In 1979 French poet Paul Braffort celebrated this with a series of 20 poems, My Hypertropes. Each of the 20 poems in the series is informed by the foregoing poems that make up its Zeckendorff sum. For example, the Zeckendorff representation of 12 is 8 + 3 + 1, so poem 12 in Braffort’s sequence shares some characters or images with each of these poems. This forced Braffort to build scenarios that would permit these relations as he wrote the poems.

Each of the numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, and 13 is its own Zeckendorff representation, so Braffort related each of these to its two foregoing Fibonacci numbers (e.g., 8 = 3 + 5). This means that only the first poem, “The Preallable Explanation (or The Rhyme’s Reason),” is not influenced by any of the others. Here is that first poem, as translated by Amaranth Borsuk and Gabriela Jaurequi:

This is my work, this is my study,
like Jarry, Cyrano puffy,

to split hairs on Rimbaud
and on willies find booboos.

If it was fair or if it snowed
in Lhassa Emma Sophie Bo-

vary widow of slow carnac
gave herself to the god of wack.

Leibnitz, saying: “Verse …” What an ac-
tor for this superb “Vers …”. Oh “nach”!

He aims, Emma, the apoplexy
of those drunk on galaxy.

At the club of “spinach” kings (nay,
Bach never went there, Banach yea!)

Leibnitz — his graph ibo: not six
mus, three nus, one phi, bona xi —

haunts without profit Bonn: “Ach! Gee
if I were great Fibonacci!!! …”

Now, for example, Poem 12, “MODELS (for Petrovich’s Band),” is an alexandrine with two six-line stanzas. The Zeckendorff representation of 12 is 1 + 3 + 8, so in each stanza of Poem 12 the first line is influenced by Poem 1, the third by Poem 3, and the sixth by Poem 8, each drawing on specific lines in the source poem. The first line in the sixth couplet of Poem 1, “He aims, Emma, the apoplexy,” informs the first line of Poem 12, “For a sweet word from Emma: a word for model”; the second line of the sixth couplet from Poem 1, “of those drunk on galaxy,” informs the first line of the second stanza in Poem 12, “Our galaxies have already packed their valise”; the phrase “when I saw you / weave a letter to Elise” in Poem 3 becomes “they say from this time forth five letters to Elise” in Poem 12; and the couplet “And Muses who compose / They’re a troop they’re tropes” in Poem 8 becomes “Tragic tropes: Leonardo is Fibonacci.”

“Thus, Braffort’s collection of poems, My Hypertropes, has an internal structure provided by a mathematical theorem,” writes Robert Tubbs in Mathematics in Twentieth-Century Literature and Art (2014). “The structure does not entirely determine these poems, but it does provide connections between the poems that might not be there otherwise.”

This

This is not very interesting
But if
You have read this far already
You will
Probably
Read as far as this:
And still
Not really accomplishing
Anything at all

You might
Even read on
Which brings you to
The line you are reading now
And after all that you are still
Probably dumb enough to keep
Right on making
A dope of yourself
By reading
As far down
The page as this.

— Anonymous, Princeton Tiger, 1949

Circle Ode

https://archive.org/details/jstor-25228707

This love lyric was written by Shahin Ghiray (c. 1747-1787), the last sultan of the independent Crimea before its conquest by the Russians. It’s written in Turkish but in the Persian letter style of Arabic. The reader starts at the central letter and reads upward, which leads him into a series of arcs around the circle. Each arc forms a diptych that begins and ends with the central letter, and each line in the diptych intersects its neighbor so that they share a word.

Poet Dick Higgins writes, “When I asked a Persian student to read this for me, the sound, with its opening alliterations, was as much a tour de force as the visual aspect.” Unfortunately it’s hard to reflect all this in English; J.W. Redhouse attempted this translation in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1861:

Let but my beloved come and take up her abode in the mansion of her lover, and shall not thy beautiful face cause his eyes to sparkle with delight!
Or, would she but attack my rival with her glances, sharp-pointed as daggers, and, piercing his breast, cause him to moan, as a flute is pierced ere it emit its sighing notes.
Turn not away, my beauty; nor flee from me, who am a prey to grief; deem it not fitting that I be consumed with the fire of my love for thee.
If the grace of God favour one of His servants, that man, from a state of utter destitution, may become the monarch of the world.
Tears flow from my eyes by reason of their desire to reach thee; for the sun of thy countenance, by an ordinance of the Almighty power, attracts to itself the moisture of the dew-drops.
If thou art wise, erect an inn on the road of self-negation; so that the pilgrims of holy love may make thereof their halting-place.
O proud and noble mistress of mine! with the eyebrows and glances that thou possessest, what need of bow or arrow wherewith to slay thy lover?
Is it that thou hast loosed thy tresses and veiled therewith the sun of thy countenance? Or is it that the moon has become eclipsed in the sign of Scorpio?
I am perfectly willing that my beloved should pierce my heart; only let that beauty deem me worthy of her favour.
Write, O pen! that I am a candidate for the flames, even as a salamander; declare it to be so, if that queen of beauty will it.
Is it the silvery lustre of the moon that has diffused brightness over the face of nature; or is it the sun of thy countenance that has illumined the world?
If any disputant should cavil, and deny the existence of thy beauty, would not thy adorer, hovering as a mote in its rays, suffice to convince the fool, if he had but common sense?
It is true that lovers do unremittingly dedicate their talents to the praise of their mistresses; but has thy turn yet come, Shahin-Ghiray, so to offer thy tribute of laudation?

Misc

A fragment from Robert Frost’s notebook on “Democracy”:

Cancellation Club. A mens club for rendering womens vote ineffective by voting the other way. One woman said No matter if her vote was offset. She only voted to assert herself — not to win elections.

A word-level palindrome by Allan Miller (from Mad Amadeus Sued a Madam):

MAYBE GOD CAN KNOW ALL WE DO; WE ALL KNOW, CAN GOD? MAYBE …

Detractors of Massachusetts governor Endicott Peabody said that three of the state’s towns had been named for him: Peabody, Marblehead, and Athol.

“I read the Tchechov aloud. I had read one of the stories myself and it seemed to me nothing. But read aloud, it was a masterpiece. How was that?” — Katherine Mansfield, journal, 1922

Dryden’s epitaph on his wife:

Here lies my wife, here let her lie;
Now she’s at rest, and so am I.

(Thanks, Bob.)