Mike Keith

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Original text in yellow, anagram in pink.

The poem presented here is an anagram of Edgar Allan Poe's To Helen - no, not the famous one that you probably know ("Helen, thy beauty is to me"), but the 1848 poem with the same name written by Poe to Sarah Helen Whitman. The anagram tells a story of the narrator's journey to pay homage to Poe, and it also incorporates an acrostic of Poe's full name in the initial letters of the final 13 non-indented lines of the poem; there is also another more cunning constraint, described in detail underneath.

I saw thee once - once only - years ago:
I must not say how many - but not many.
It was a July midnight; and from out
A full-orbed moon, that, like thine own soul, soaring,
Sought a precipitate pathway up through heaven,
There fell a silvery-silken veil of light,
With quietude, and sultriness, and slumber,
Upon the upturned faces of a thousand
Roses that grew in an enchanted garden,
Where no wind dared to stir, unless on tiptoe -
Fell on the upturn'd faces of these roses
That gave out, in return for the love-light,
Their odorous souls in an ecstatic death -
Fell on the upturn'd faces of these roses
That smiled and died in this parterre, enchanted
By thee, and by the poetry of thy presence.
Clad all in white, upon a violet bank
I saw thee half reclining; while the moon
Fell on the upturn'd faces of the roses,
And on thine own, upturn'd - alas, in sorrow!

Was it not Fate, that, on this July midnight -
Was it not Fate, (whose name is also Sorrow,)
That bade me pause before that garden-gate,
To breathe the incense of those slumbering roses?
No footstep stirred: the hated world an slept,
Save only thee and me. (Oh, Heaven! - oh, God!
How my heart beats in coupling those two words!)
Save only thee and me. I paused - I looked -
And in an instant all things disappeared.
(Ah, bear in mind this garden was enchanted!)

The pearly lustre of the moon went out:
The mossy banks and the meandering paths,
The happy flowers and the repining trees,
Were seen no more: the very roses' odors
Died in the arms of the adoring airs.
All - all expired save thee - save less than thou:
Save only the divine light in thine eyes -
Save but the soul in thine uplifted eyes.
I saw but them - they were the world to me!
I saw but them - saw only them for hours,
Saw only them until the moon went down.
What wild heart-histories seemed to he enwritten
Upon those crystalline, celestial spheres!
How dark a woe, yet how sublime a hope!
How silently serene a sea of pride!
How daring an ambition; yet how deep -
How fathomless a capacity for love!

But now, at length, dear Dian sank from sight,
Into a western couch of thunder-cloud;
And thou, a ghost, amid the entombing trees
Didst glide away. Only thine eyes remained;
They would not go - they never yet have gone;
Lighting my lonely pathway home that night,
They have not left me (as my hopes have) since;
They follow me - they lead me through the years.
They are my ministers - yet I their slave.
Their office is to illumine and enkindle -
My duty, to be saved by their bright light,
And purified in their electric fire,
And sanctified in their elysian fire.
They fill my soul with Beauty (which is Hope),
And are far up in Heaven - the stars I kneel to
In the sad, silent watches of my night;
While even in the meridian glare of day
I see them still - two sweetly scintillant
Venuses, unextinguished by the sun!

As on a bitter, late black night I sensed
A pang of hunger for serene, lost times,
Outside occult December, hued in white,
Ethereal in every wise, repealed a chime.

Lento time, latent swells: tinny, rusty bells;
On this vain and haunted heap,
Two friends in passion deep.

A gold fire issued shadows of the shapes
That occupied my nearby twilight watch,
As haltingly I heaved a weary cry
And for a time my bloody tunic touch'd:
"Thy youth, thy heart's extent, thy knotty truth,
Shall it not, in our world, pass by tonight?
Ah, ghastly death thy wits shall hence annul,
In hidden morgues thy youth, thy spoil unite."

In pain, in worry, gloomily I sat
Then sampled wines of finely mellow hues:
Vintages of mountain yeast, of thyme,
Ardent, earthen, native county brews,
Then imitated true and witty visions
Of airy themes: a throne, a nude Athene,
A trove of frightful, stupid, mutant woes,
Cold poverty, and this trite world unclean.

Heartened by some tacit undertone
("Just my crowing raven's rant", I swore),
Silently I felt a fleeting throng
Call me to his shrine near Baltimore.

Finely, the bells tapped their hints
With a tune: the ascetic tune,
The tinny tone of man by love unhinged,
To weep alone, and next to swoon.

To go I hired a makeshift limousine,
And man to helm it for the outward course;
We spared no time, and forth to see him drove,
Indeed appeasing not that famous horse.

Ah, thou lathe: the hated pit
Of heaven's lathe our soul besets,
With the feeble weeping wetness
Which a silken drapery imbues to Lenore,
The deathly gentle saint of Poe's.

Shortly we came to a gate
Worn by the sea mist - the inner door,
The fair, pale stag within baying
On and on in gaunt, woeful attitude.
Tunes he evoked to me - philosophies,
Sans grace, in unseen, cruel visions.

Demented untruths, such as these:
An odious, eerie hamlet of half-paid stone;
Unholy humiliations, the ire they awakened in me;
Night after bland night of ochre-hued tones,
Nineteen rows of graves deep;
Deep holes, little holes, trite poetry
Of finding a lost heathen herewith redeemed.

Alone, I stirred and ambled yon and near
Then paused by the vault, that solid granite there,
To touch, to choke, to grieve, to take within
Inferno's fumes and wasting human sleep.

Eden's valley of unrest, whose moonlight
Dales with scars are gently strewn,
Ghastly shouts that show death's hold live there,
Awaiting thy wife, the blonde pride of the moon.
Removed, as sent from nymph-joined heaven's hold,
As prayers for her, when night-born winds assume;
Lethe deep has wholly washed his head -
Lost within, for aye, its white, high tomb.
An author skilled who rhymed in woeful ways
Near shallow graves unread by human seer;
Poets that embrace those heavy dirges
Of fears and love's law will worship here.
Envoy:
Quiet here,
and sleep in peace.

And now, here is the real constraint.
Consider the following scheme for turning a piece of text into a grayscale picture:

  1. Break the text up into its sequence of words. This sounds trivial, but some rules have to be settled on to avoid ambiguity or illogical results. I decided on these rules as being the most natural:
    1. Apostrophes do not (of course) cause a string to be split. E.g., "love's law" is a 5-letter word followed by a 3-letter word.
    2. The hyphen ("-") is a delimiter. "Half-paid stone" is three words, not two.
    3. All other punctuation is ignored.
  2. Take each word of three or more letters and do the following:
    • First, sum up the values the letters in the word (with the usual A=1, B=2, C=3, etc.).
    • Then, reduce the sum modulo 9, giving a value in the range 0 through 8. (Note that this second step is equivalent to continually together adding the digits of the sum until a single digit is left - i.e. "casting out nines" - except with that method, if the final result is a 9 it is replaced with 0.)
  3. Take the resulting series of 0-to-8 values and arrange them in a two-dimensional grid. The dimensions of the rectangle will in general be ambiguous, so it either has to be specified or you can just try various different possibilities and see if any of them are interesting. The one to try first, we suggest, is the rectangle with the largest possible size in X such that the X size is less than or equal to the Y size. For example, for 396 this would be 18 x 22.
  4. View the result as a gray-scale image, with 0=black and the other values evenly distributed up to 8=white.

For instance, the beginning of the anagram turns into numbers as follows:

As
on
a
B+I+T+T+E+R = 2+9+20+20+5+18 = 74 = 2 mod 9
L+A+T+E = 12+1+20+5 = 38 = 2 mod 9
B+L+A+C+K = 2+12+1+3+11 = 29 = 2 mod 9
N+I+G+H+T = 14+9+7+8+20 = 58 = 4 mod 9
I
S+E+N+S+E+D = 19+5+14+19+5+13 = 75 = 3 mod 9

so that the series of numbers begins 2, 2, 2, 4, 3.
Here is the complete sequence of 396 numbers, arranged into an 18x22 array:

2 2 2 4 3 2 1 3 3 3 3 3 2 1 2 2 2 3
2 3 2 3 2 0 0 1 4 5 2 1 1 1 3 4 3 3
3 2 2 5 8 6 5 4 4 2 0 1 0 0 0 1 1 3
2 1 4 8 8 8 8 8 7 8 6 6 7 4 0 0 1 3
2 2 8 8 7 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 6 4 0 0 4
2 7 7 8 8 8 7 8 7 8 8 8 8 8 4 2 0 1
1 7 8 8 7 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 7 4 1 2 0
0 7 8 7 8 8 7 8 7 8 8 8 7 6 1 1 0 1
2 5 8 6 5 8 6 7 6 6 6 6 6 6 1 0 1 0
1 4 2 1 0 5 8 2 0 1 1 2 3 6 3 0 0 2
1 4 2 3 1 5 7 4 4 3 2 1 1 6 2 0 2 1
0 4 7 6 6 8 7 6 6 7 6 6 6 6 3 0 0 1
0 4 6 7 6 7 7 6 6 7 6 7 7 2 2 4 1 0
1 1 7 8 7 8 7 6 5 8 7 6 6 3 2 6 5 0
3 1 5 6 6 5 4 1 4 5 6 4 4 2 1 5 3 0
3 3 5 6 5 0 0 0 3 7 6 5 2 3 1 1 0 1
2 2 3 6 4 4 5 2 2 4 6 3 1 2 1 1 1 3
3 3 2 5 7 7 5 5 6 6 6 2 0 2 3 4 2 3
3 3 2 3 8 7 6 7 7 6 3 1 4 7 4 3 2 3
3 3 4 5 4 4 6 6 5 3 1 5 6 0 0 3 2 3
4 3 2 5 5 2 0 1 1 1 5 2 0 0 0 3 2 3
4 2 4 7 8 4 1 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 3

Below are three renderings of this in grayscale: (1) as a collection of large blocks in the proper grayscale (to be viewed from a distance), (2) at "native size" (with each digit represented by just one pixel), and (3) the native view enlarged by a factor of 1.5.
Although crude (as a result of the fact that 18x22 isn't a whole lot of pixels), the image should be recognizable as a portrait of The Man.

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Updated: May 10, 2016


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