When the Germans invaded Denmark in April, 1940, Piet Hein (1905-1996) was a 34-year-old scientist and inventor, who had to decide between three responses: do nothing, flee to “neutral” Sweden — or join the Danish resistance movement. As he explained in 1968, “Sweden was out because I am not Swedish, but Danish. I could not remain at home because, if I had, every knock at the door would have sent shivers up my spine.
So, I joined the Resistance.”
His method of resisting was unique. He invented a new kind of poetry.
Hein called his poems Grooks (pronounced “gruk” in Danish), and wrote under the nom de plume Kumbel, “tombstone” in Old Norse. He outwitted the strict censorship set up by the Nazis by writing seemingly innocuous little poems with subtle double meanings, which were published in the Danish daily newspaper Politiken.
Losing one glove
is certainly painful,
compared to the pain,
of losing one,
throwing away the other,
the first one again.
The Danes, looking for hope and encouragement during the occupation, saw what the censors missed. The gloves were metaphors: even if you’ve lost your freedom, don’t lose your self-respect by collaborating with the enemy, or you will never forgive yourself when your country is free again. The poem soon appeared as graffiti on walls all over Denmark.
the players must reckon
to reap what they’ve sown.
We have a defence
against other defences,
but what’s to defend us
against our own?
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
A WORD TO THE WISE
Let the world pass in its time-ridden race;
never get caught in its snare.
Remember, the only acceptable case
for being in any particular place
is having no business there.
LIVING IS —
a thing you do
now or never —
which do you?
AN ETHICAL GROOK
and I hear
and I speak no evil;
within my breast;
yet quite without
a man to the Devil
one may be
to hope for the best.
THE TRUE DEFENCE
The only defence
that is more than pretence
is to act on the fact
that there is no defence.
The past, — well, it’s just like
our Great-Aunt Laura,
who cannot or will not perceive
that though she is welcome,
and though we adore her,
yet now it is time to leave.
THAT IS THE QUESTION
Hamlet Anno Domini.
or no existence.
MEETING THE EYE
You’ll probably find
that it suits your book
to be a bit cleverer
than you look.
Observe that the easiest
method by far
is to look a bit stupider
than you are.
IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN
A poet should be of the
old-fashioned meaningless brand:
obscure, esoteric, symbolic, —
the critics demand it;
so if there’s a poem of mine
that you do understand
I’ll gladly explain what it means
till you don’t understand it.
As you can see, there’s no particular form for a Grook. The poems do share a wry sense of humor, brevity and an aphoristic style of language, which combine to make them memorable.
THE CASE FOR OBSCURITY
On Thoughts and Words I.
If no thought
your mind does visit,
make your speech
not too explicit.
GROOK ON LONG-WINDED AUTHORS
Long-winded writers I abhor,
and glib, prolific chatters;
give me the ones who tear and gnaw
their hair and pens to tatters:
who find heir writing such a chore
they only write what matters.
In May, 1945, Denmark was liberated from the Nazis. Scandinavian architects started looking for a new form for buildings in the post-war era, something to signal the country’s renewal. Piet Hein proposed using the superellipse. It became the hallmark of modern Scandinavian architecture.
Hein continued to write Grooks, over 7000 of them (a number of them in English since he did undergraduate work at Yale University) which were published in a series that grew to 20 volumes. He was an advocate for the use of the superellipse curve in city planning, furniture making and he also designed housewares based on the shape. He used his math skills in creating several numbers games.
The road to wisdom? – Well, it’s plain
and simple to express:
and err again
Pier Hein shone a small light for his country in its darkest hour, and helped design its reconstruction when peace and independence were restored.
There are many in our current troubled times who think that Art in all its forms serves no useful purpose.
I am of the belief that Art can keep us from despair, uncover our common ground, and just might be what saves us in the end.
In this Dark Season, may Light find you.
Grooks collections published in English
- Grooks I (samling af engelske gruk, 1966)
- Grooks II (samling af engelske gruk, 1969)
- Grooks III (samling af engelske gruk, 1970)
- Grooks IV (samling af engelske gruk, 1972)
- Grooks V (samling af engelske gruk, 1973)
- Grooks VI (samling af engelske gruk, 1978)
- Grooks VII (samling af engelske gruk, 1984)
- Grooks I-VI udg. i Skandinavien, Canada, England, USA
- Collected Grooks I (2002)
- Collected Grooks II (2002)
- Wikipedia — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piet_Hein_(scientist)
- Danishnet — http://www.danishnet.com/culture/piet-hein-1905-1996/
- Britannica — https://www.britannica.com/biography/Piet-Hein
- All pen-and-ink drawings are by Piet Hein, used to illustrate his Grook collections
- Diagram of a superellipse
- Superellipse table based on a Piet Hein design
- Photo of Piet Hein
Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud