Monday, July 25, 2016

Homage to Godel

From Erica Jolly, an Australian poet and online friend, I have learned of a fine anthology of science poems --  A Quark for Mister Mark:  101 Poems about Science, edited by Maurice Riordan and Jon Turney (Faber and Faber, 2000).  A poem in that collection that was new to me -- and one I like a lot -- is "Homage to Gödel" by German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger; I offer it below.  This link leads to a thoughtful review (by Richard Dove) of Enzensberger's poetry -- one of Dove's observations is that thought processes fascinate Enzenberger; "Homage to Gödel" illustrates that fascination. 

     Homage to Gödel     by Hans Magnus Enzensberger  
(translated from German by the poet)

     'Pull yourself out of the mire
     by your own hair': Münchhausen's theorem
     is charming, but do not forget:
     the Baron was a great liar. 

     Gödel's theorem may seem, at first sight,
     rather nondescript,
     but please keep in mind:
     Gödel is right.

     'In any sufficiently rich system
     statements are possible
     which can neither be proved
     nor refuted within the system,
     unless the system itself
     is inconsistent.'

     You can describe your own language
     in your own language:
     but not quite.
     You can investigate your own brain
     by means of your own brain:
     but not quite.

     In order to be vindicated
     any conceivable system
     must transcend, and that means,
     destroy itself.

     'Sufficiently rich' or not:
     Freedom from contradiction
     is either a deficiency symptom,
     or it amounts to a contradiction.

     (Certainty = Inconsistency.)

     Any conceivable horseman,
     including Münchhausen,
     including yourself, is a subsystem
     of a sufficiently rich mire.

     And a subsystem of this subsystem
     is your own hair,
     favourite tackle
     of reformists and liars.

     In any sufficiently rich system
     including the present mire
     statements are possible
     which can neither be proved
     nor refuted within the system.

     Those are the statements
     to grasp, and pull!

One may find ideas of Gödel celebrated in song lyrics at this link.


  1. Amazing as a poem and math exposition.

  2. Actually, it is a joint translation by the poet and Michael Hamburger, who translated a lot of poetry by the german poet and was considered a great translator. I myself translated this poem based on this version.

  3. Francisco--Thanks for your comment on the translator. I have returned to the anthology to check and -- though I suppose it may be wrong -- the note for this particular poem says "translated by the author."