Grooks – Brief Poems by Piet Hein

HeinPiet Hein (1905 – 1996) was a Danish scientist, philosopher, mathematician, inventor, designer, author, and poet, often writing under the Old Norse pseudonym “Kumbel” meaning “tombstone”. A philosophy of a close link between the subjectivity of the fine arts and the objective world of science made him one of the most original Danes of the 20th century. He also created a new form of poetry he called ‘Grook‘ (“gruk” in Danish). He defined art as a way of thinking about all subjects, so for him ‘being a poet’ was only one outlet for his astonishing creativity. He asserted in his philosophical writings that the great cultural divide was not between the haves and the have-nots, but between the knows and the know-nots.

After the Second World War, Scandinavian architects, tired of square buildings but cognizant that circular buildings were impractical, asked Piet Hein for a solution. Applying his mathematical prowess to the problem, Piet Hein proposed to use the superellipse which became the hallmark of modern Scandinavian architecture. In addition to the thousands of grooks he wrote, he devised various games: Hex, Tangloids, Tower, Polytaire, TacTix, Nimbi, Qrazy Qube, Pyramystery, and the Soma cube. He advocated the use of the superellipse curve in city planning, furniture making and other realms. He also invented a perpetual calendar called the Astro Calendar and marketed housewares based on the superellipse and superegg.

Piet Hein was a direct descendant of the 17th Century Dutch privateer of the same name. He died in his home on Funen, Denmark in 1996.

 

What is a Grook?

According to Wikipedia, A grook (“gruk” in Danish) is a form of short aphoristic poem. It was initially presented by the Danish poet and scientist Piet Hein, who wrote over 7000 of them, mostly in Danish or English. They have been published in 20 volumes. Some say that the name is short for “GRin & sUK” (“laugh & sigh” in Danish), but Piet Hein said he felt that the word had come out of thin air…Piet Hein’s gruks first started to appear in the daily newspaper “Politiken” shortly after the Nazi Occupation in April 1940 under the signature Kumbel Kumbell. The poems were meant as a spirit-building, yet slightly coded form of passive resistance. The grooks are characterized by irony, paradox, brevity, precise use of language, sophisticated rhythms and rhymes, and an often satiric nature.

From the forties to the sixties, twenty volumes of original collections of grooks were published. There are those who claim Piet Hein wrote over 10,000 of grooks, most in Danish or English, which were published in more than 60 books. One of the first – “Taking fun as simply fun” – remains one of the most famous. Piet Hein called it a pedagogical grook and mentioned it afterwards as a kind of key to all the other grooks. Under the pseudonym Kumbel Kumbell, he had his poems translated into many different languages and has had  more than one and a half million copies printed. Grooks have been used in many different formats. Small porcelain butter platters with a grook painted on them became famous. Hein was also responsible for translations of entire collections of grooks into English as well as Esperanto.

 

 

image008

 

Brief Grooks by Piet Hein

THE ROAD TO WISDOM

The road to wisdom?—Well, it’s
plain and simple to express:
Err
and err
and err again,
but less
and less
and less.

***

EXPERTS

Experts have
their expert fun
ex cathedra
telling one
just how nothing
can be done.

***

THAT IS THE QUESTION
Hamlet Anno Domini.

Co-existence
or no existence.

***

MAKING SENSE

Life makes senses
and who could doubt it,
if we have
no doubt about it.

***

OUT OF TIME

(A holiday thought)
My old clock used to tell the time
and subdivide diurnity;
but now it’s lost both hands and chime
and only tells eternity.

***

LIVING IS…

Living is
a thing you do
now or never —
which do you?

***

NAIVE —

Naive you are
if you believe
life favours those
who aren’t naive.

***

 

grook3

***

A MOMENT’S THOUGHT

As eternity
is reckoned
there’s a lifetime
in a second.

***

SMALL THINGS
& GREAT

He that lets
the small things bind him
leaves the great
undone behind him.

***

THOSE WHO KNOW

Those who always
know what’s best
are
a universal pest.

***

SIMILARITY

Commutative Law
No cow’s like a horse,
and no horse like a cow.
That’s one similarity
anyhow.

***

 

VV15

 

***

REMEDIES’ REMEDIES

Pills are useful
against ills
and against
too many pills.

***

TIMING TOAST

image017

There’s an art of knowing when.
Never try to guess.
Toast until it smokes and then
twenty seconds less.

***

PROBLEMS

Problems worthy
of attack
prove their worth
by hitting back.

***

ARS BREVIS

There is
one art,
no more,
no less:
to do
all things
with art-
lessness.

***

 

grook2

***

WISDOM IS

Wisdom is
the booby prize
given when you’ve been
unwise.

***

WHAT LOVE IS LIKE

Love is like
a pineapple,
sweet and
undefinable.

***

VITA BREVIS

A lifetime
is more
than
sufficiently long
for people to get
what there is of it wrong.

 

image008

 

All text and illustrations are owned by Piet Hein’s estate.

 

LINKS

Introducing the Grook

The Wikipedia page on a Grook.

The Piet Hein website.

Some information on Piet Hien and his Grooks.

A large selection of Grooks by Piet Hein

A selection of Grooks by Piet Hein.

Grooks in English by Piet Hein.

Selected Grooks by Piet Hein.

 

Hein

 

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