Thinking of Kay

I can't go the funeral, but he is still in my thoughts.

A favourite memory is his delight that I not only knew about one of the poems from Stanisław Lem's collection of short stories, The Cyberiad, but could quote it. *

One of the two protagonists has made a machine that writes poetry. The other tries to think of harder and harder tests and finally demands ".. 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, cleverly rhymed, and every word beginning with the letter s!!"

The first starts to protest that this is impossible, but while he's speaking, out comes the result:

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


Hearing of the machine, all the first rate poets come to challenge it in a poetry contest. They are crushed by the machine's brilliance and throw themselves off a cliff on the way home. The same thing happens to all the second rate poets. Then all the third rate poets arrive for their contest.. and go home happily – being third rate, they do not realise how badly they have been beaten.

Kay is one of the reasons I know I am not a third rate person, because I recognised just how good he was.

* I had to look the poem up this time. Huge respect to translator Michael Kandel – there's apparently a book, written by someone who has no idea of where it came from or the constraints under which it was written, quoting it with a dismissive comment that the author isn't very good.

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