Friday, January 06, 2012

Piet Hein

This is the picture I used to see printed on a tile in our Danish holiday home. It's an illustration for a poem written by famous Danish poet and scientist Piet Hein. Here is the Danish version:

de tre T.T.T.
Men vid ...
Ting Ta'r Tid.

I don't speak Danish for real and translating these few words has proven quite difficult.
I now know why.
Piet Hein called his poems "gruks" (translated into English "grooks") and they are short, aphoristic pieces and he wrote more than 7,000 of them. He started them during German Nazi Occupation which began in April 1940. He hid his criticism in his "gruks" and stupid as they were the Nazis didn't realize what he was doing. They passed censorship and he was able to publish them. Taking into consideration that these were meant to have different layers of meaning it is not so surprising anymore that they are hard to translate. There aren't any official German translations, some of them have English versions (by Piet Hein) although the books are long out of print apparently. I found a nice page with some information on Piet Hein and a collection of some English grooks - including my T.T.T. poem:

Put up in a place
where it's easy to see
the cryptic admonishment
T. T. T.

When you feel how depressingly
slowly you climb,
it's well to remember that
Things Take Time!

And here's another one I liked, it works a little bit better than the complicated translation (more like a re-write) of T.T.T.:

The Road to Wisdom

The road to wisdom?
-- Well, it's plain
and simple to express:
and err
and err again
but less
and less
and less.

Important to mention that Piet Hein was also a great inventor of games and a designer.
Find out more:
There are some grooks on wikiquote, too. 

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