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The Longest Now

In eternal rhyme: as Cyberiad draws nigh, a tiny Lem shrine
Sunday March 25th 2018, 1:49 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,Glory, glory, glory,noetic,poetic justice

Stanislaw Lem‘s Cyberiad is a miracle of 20th century literature, and of translation. I want to preserve parts of two stories here in as many languages as I can find.  Sources wanted for both, if you have a copy in your language:

  • The poems of Trurl’s Electronic Bard, with their exquisite compact wordplay.
  • (to come!) The story How the World Was Saved — where everything beginning with a single letter is destroyed. Douglas Hofstadter’s paean to translation, Le Ton Beau de Marot, touches on the challenges with translating this story.  


Phlogisticosh. Rhomothriglyph. Floof.

Pev’t o’ tay merlong gumin gots,
Untle yun furly päzzen ye,
Confre an’ ayzor, ayzor ots,
Bither de furloss bochre blee!

Mockles! Fent on silpen tree,
Blockards three a-feening,
Mockles, what silps came to thee
In thy pantry dreaming?

Oft, in that wickless chalet all begorn,
Where whilom soughed the mossy sappertort
And you were wont to bong–

{Responding to Klapaucius’s taunts…}

The Petty and the Small
Are overcome with gall
When Genius, having faltered, fails to fall.

Klapaucius too, I ween,
Will turn the deepest green
To hear such flawless verse from Trurl’s machine.

Have it compose a poem — a poem about a haircut! But lofty, noble, tragic, timeless, full of love, treachery, retribution, quiet heroism in the face of certain doom!  Six lines, cleerly rhymed, and every word beginning with the letter s!!

Seduced, shaggy Samson snored.
She scissored short. Sorely shorn,
Soon shackled slave, Samson sighed,
Silently scheming,
Sightlessly seeking
Some savage, spectacular suicide.

Now all in g! A sonnet, trochaic hexameter, about an old cyclotron who kept sixteen artificial mistresses, blue and radioactive, had four wings, three purple pavilions, two lacquered chests, each containing exactly one thousand medallions bearing the likeness of Czar Murdicog the Headless…

Grinding gleeful gears, Gerontogyron grabbed
Giggling gynecobalt-60 golems …

Let’s have a love poem, lyrical, pastoral, and expressed in the language of pure mathematics.  Tensor algebra mainly, with a little topology and higher calculus, if need be. But with feeling, you understand, and in the cybernetic spirit.

Come, let us hasten to a higher plane,
Where dyads tread the fairy fields of Venn,
Their indices bedecked from one to n,
Commingled in an endless Markov chain!

Come, every frustrum longs to be a cone,
And every vector dreams of matrices.
Hark to the gentle gradient of the breeze:
It whispers of a more ergodic zone.

In Riemann, Hilbert or in Banach space
Let superscripts and subscripts go their ways.
Our asymptotes no longer out of phase,
We shall encounter, counting, face to face.

I’ll grant thee random access to my heart,
Thou’lt tell me all the constants of thy love;
And so we two shall all love’s lemmas prove,
And in our bound partition never part.

For what did Cauchy know, or Christoffel,
Or Fourier, or any Boole or Euler,
Wielding their compasses, their pens and rulers,
Of thy supernal sinusoidal spell?

Cancel me not — for what then shall remain?
Abscissas, some mantissas, modules, modes,
A root or two, a torus and a node:
The inverse of my verse, a null domain.

Ellipse of bliss, converge, O lips divine!
The product of our scalars is defined!
Cyberiad draws nigh, and the skew mind
Cuts capers like a happy haversine.

I see the eigenvalue in thine eye,
I hear the tender tensor in thy sigh.
Bernoulli would have been content to die,
Had he but known such a²cos2ф!

{And found among the poet’s papers…}

Arms, and machines I sing, that, forc’d by fate,
And haughty Homo’s unrelenting hate,
Expell’d and exil’d, left the Terran shore…

Russian (kiberiada)

(via bad OCR)

Obshchekotovicharohristofornaya hryashchetvorobka.

Lopotuj golomozyj, da bundet gryvchato
V koch’ turmel’noj bychahe, chto kozdroj usnit,
Okoshel by nazakroch’, vysvirya glazyata,
A porsaki korslivye vychat namryd!

Tri, samolozh vyverstnyj, vertyashku sum vozdlinem,
Seklivoj apelajde i borovajka knetsya,
Grenit malopoleshnyj tem perezlavskim trinem,
I otmurchitsya bamba, i goloyu vernetsya.

Gryznotvuroga zhuzhdya, golenistyj lolen’
Samoshpaka mimanku…

Zavist’, chvanstvo, egoizm, po slovam Konfuciya,
Do dobra ne dovedut – znaet eto i bolvan.
Slovno kraba gruzovik, tak i Klapauciya
Moshch’yu zamyslov razdavit duha velikan!

Kot, kaverznik kovarnyj, kiberotoman,
K koroleve kafrov kradetsya Kiprian.
Kak klavesina klavishej, korsazha kasaetsya.
Krasotka k kavaleru, konfuzyas’, kidaetsya…
…Kaznitsya kralya, kisnet: kanul Kupidon,
K kuzine korolevy kradetsya kiberon!

Groznyj Gen’ka-generator grubo gryz goroh gorstyami…

Love and Tensor Algebra

V ekstremum kibernetik popadal
Ot robosti, kogda kiberiady
Nemodulyarnyh grupp iskal on integral.
Proch’, edinichnyh vektorov zasady!

Tak est’ lyubov’ il’ eto lish’ igra?
Gde, antiobraz, ty? Voznikni, slovo molvi-ka!
Uzh nam proreducirovat’ pora
Lyubovnicu v obŽyatiya lyubovnika.

Polumetrichnoj drozhi sil’nyj tok
Obratnoj svyaz’yu tut zhe obernetsya,
Takoj kaskadnoj, chto v nedolgij srok
Korotkoj yarkoj vspyshkoj cep’ zamknetsya!

Ty, transfinal’nyj klass! Ty, edinica sily!
Kontinuum ushedshih prasistem!
Za proizvodnuyu lyubvi, chto mne darila
Ona, otdam ya Stoksa nasovsem!

Otkroyutsya, kak Teoremy Tela,
Tvoih prostranstv vetvistye glubiny,
I gradienty kiparisov smelo
Pomnozheny na stai golubinye.

Sediny? CHush’! My ne v prostranstve Vejlya
I topologiyu projdem za laskoj sledom my,
Takih krutizn raschetam robko vnemlya,
CHto byli Lobachevskomu nevedomy

O komitanta chuvstv, tebya lish’ znaet
Tot, kto uznal tvoj rokovoj zaryad:
Parametry fatal’no navisayut,
Nanosekundy gibel’yu grozyat.

Lishen golonomicheskoj sistemoj
Nulya koordinatnyh asimptot,
Poslednih lask, – v proekcii poslednej
Nash kibernetik gibnet ot zabot.

T’ma. Vo t’me zakruzhilis’ pustoty.
Osyazaem, no prizrachen sled.
Veter dunul – i vzora kak net.
Slyshen shag nastupayushchej roty.


More languages

French, German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish: Love and Tensor Algebra (bad charset)

Polish, Czech, Hungarian: Love and Tensor Algebra (bad charset)

Related essays

  • Hofstadter, Douglas: Le Ton Beau De Marot – discusses the challenges in translating How the World was Saved
  • Hoel, Camilla: Fascinasjonen ved det utilgjengelige: “Love and Tensor Algebra” – Discusses Michael Kandel’s English translation, and the choice to abandon both form and content, in order to remain true to the original.…

Thank Lem for subtle translators.

Comment by longestnow 07.30.18 @ 11:58 am

I like this part of the poem
“I’ll grant thee random access to my heart,
Thou’lt tell me all the constants of thy love;
And so we two shall all love’s lemmas prove,
And in our bound partition never part.”

Comment by Mo yaqub 08.30.19 @ 9:43 pm

A mightly tribute to the asymptotic nature of love and attraction!

Comment by David Victor 07.06.20 @ 6:18 pm

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