Piet Hein

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P. L. Debevoise
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Piet Hein (December 16, 1905 – April 18, 1996), was a Danish mathematician, scientist, inventor, and poet. He often wrote using the pseudonym Kumbel (Old Norse for "tombstone").


  • Man is the animal that draws lines which he himself then stumbles over. In the whole pattern of civilization there have been two tendencies, one toward straight lines and rectangular patterns and one toward circular lines. There are reasons, mechanical and psychological, for both tendencies. Things made with straight lines fit well together and save space. And we can move easily – physically or mentally – around things made with round lines. But we are in a straitjacket, having to accept one or the other, when often some intermediate form would be better.
  • After all, what is art? Art is the creative process and it goes through all fields. Einstein’s theory of relativity – now that is a work of art! Einstein was more of an artist in physics than on his violin.
    Art is this: art is the solution of a problem which cannot be expressed explicitly until it is solved.
  • To be and not to be, that is the answer.


"Grooks" was the name Hein devised for his short pithy poems. Piet Hein published several of his grooks in different languages. His mother tongue was Danish, but he translated his poems to English, German, Spanish and a number of other languages.

  • There is
    one art,
    no more,
    no less:
    to do
    all things
    with art-
  • Living is
    a thing you do
    now or never -
    which do you?
  • Love is like
    a pineapple,
    sweet and
  • Naive you are
    if you believe
    life favours those
    who aren't naive.
  • Somebody said
    that Reason was dead.
    Reason said: No,
    I think not so.
  • People are self-centered
    to a nauseous degree.
    They will keep on about themselves
    while I'm explaining me.
  • Problems worthy
    of attack
    prove their worth
    by hitting back.
  • Put up in a place
    where it's easy to see
    the cryptic admonishment


    When you feel how depressingly
    slowly you climb,
    it's well to remember that
    Things Take Time. (Danish: Ting Tager Tid)
  • The road to wisdom? - Well, it's plain
    and simple to express:
    and err
    and err again
    but less
    and less
    and less.
  • The way to grow grand
    is not: to demand.
    In life's every field
    you are what you yield.
  • Wisdom is
    the booby prize
    given when you've been
  • Freedom means
    you're free to do
    just whatever
    pleases you;
    --if, of course
    that is to say,
    what you please
    is what you may.
  • The universe may
    be as great as they say.
    But it wouldn't be missed
    if it didn't exist.
  • Whenever you're called on to make up your mind,
    and you're hampered by not having any,
    the best way to solve the dilemma, you'll find,
    is simply by spinning a penny.
    No - not so that chance shall decide the affair
    while you're passively standing there moping;
    but the moment the penny is up in the air,
    you suddenly know what you're hoping
  • Co-existence
    or no existence.
  • The noble art of losing face
    may some day save the human race
    and turn into eternal merit
    what weaker minds would call disgrace.

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