An Alphametish Poem

Mike Keith
July 1998


The subject of the following poem is how James Branch Cabell attained great fame through the writing of (and subsequent obsencity trial surrounding) Jurgen, but never again reached that pinnacle of fame with his subsequent books.  This poem is also an experiment in (a highly unusual form of) constrained writing, and its constraint will be revealed to you below.

The Wiser Writer and the Inane Reader

He writes at night, serene.
No one, it seems, warms
To his tales of ideal
Love and valor and chance.

As in times past he rearms
Again his genius: Jurgen ensues.

At first, no one sees; no one writes
Of his book or of his risks.
Then Mr. Sumner hisses
"Obscene!", and scene by scene bedecks
Cabell's classic tale with witless
Remarks and asinine fanfare.

There is a trial; fairly easily
Is the case won. As the news echoes within
The land the tale sells and sells . . . and taunts
Its author with odious
Fervor for ever and ever. So fame, snarer
Of souls, takes its fitful
Victim again, as slings
And arrows ever attend reason.

The constraint used here is to write in Strict Alphametish, a peculiar form of writing in which each unit (in this case, a line of the poem) is required to be an alphametic that has a unique solution.  (In non-strict, or colloquial, Alphametish, the alphametics are allowed to have more than one solution.)

An alphametic is a special kind of mathematical puzzle, in which a set of words is written down in the form of an ordinary "long-hand" addition sum, and it is required that the letters of the alphabet be replaced with decimal digits so that the result is a valid arithmetic sum.  For example, the sentence "Send more money." is an alphametic since the long-hand addition


can be interpreted, by setting S=9, E=5, N=6, D=7, M=1, O=0, R=8, Y=2, as


which is, in fact, a valid addition (9567 + 1085 = 10652).

In the poem above, the title and each of the 20 lines (and the title, too) is an alphametic whose solution is unique (that is, there is only one way of replacing letters with digits that yields a valid addition).  For example, the third line, TO HIS TALES OF IDEAL, has the solution 47 + 856 + 49216 + 73 = 50192.  You are hereby challenged to solve the other 20 alphametics!