The Hydra

Mike Keith
August 1998 & February 2021



The poem below is a transformation of William Blakeís "The Tyger" via an unusual linguistic constraint related to a certain list of fundamental things in the universe.  Can you guess what the constraint is, given the hint that the poem contains exactly 109 words, or 118 if you include the reader's note?  The solution is given below the poem.


The Hydra

Hydra, hydra, looming bright
(Be calm now, O forest night!),
No manís art - so plainly, see -
Can ask, know, capture symmetry!

Translate, villain - can man feel,
Capture now Creatorís zeal?
Gauntly go as sorrows brew,
Knowing, really seeing you?

Zounds! No more! This riddle rare
Puts a catch in Satanís snare.
Thus I exorcise, cast by,
Luciferís cursed progeny.

Now, please, sir, elucidate,
Grapple thus, disseminate:
How eíen thrives your lofty heads?
Tell, what reigneth overhead?

I pause, asking: has this place
Boldly praised a ravaged face?
Resurrect again, tonight,
Precious unseen Nazarite!

Polyhead and crafty blight,
Creeping eastward from my night;
Lord remote - descend, supply,
Break his multisymmetry!

(Dear Reader: continued new finds may lengthen this ode.)



In The Hydra, the first letter of successive words is required to be the same as the first letters of the one-or-two-letter abbreviations taken in order from the Periodic Table Of The Elements, thus producing a constrained language that might be called Elemental English. Note that this constraint is not equivalent to using the first letter in the names of the elements, since some of the abbreviations begin with a different letter than the name (e.g., Na for Sodium).

The poem was written in 1998, when 109 elements had official names.  The "reader's note" at the end was added in 2021 to account for the nine new elements that had been discovered and/or assigned names by then.

There is one element that begins with X (Xe = Xenon); for this one, we have taken the liberty of using an ex- word rather than the an x- word, a not-uncommon trick used in acrostics to avoid words starting with X.

For reference, the 118 official abbreviations for the elements (as of 2021), in order, are:

H  He Li Be B  C  N  O  F  Ne Na Mg Al Si P  S  Cl Ar K  Ca
Sc Ti V  Cr Mn Fe Co Ni Cu Zn Ga Ge As Se Br Kr Rb Sr Y  Zr
Nb Mo Tc Ru Rh Pd Ag Cd In Sn Sb Te I  Xe Cs Ba La Ce Pr Nd
Pm Sm Eu Gd Tb Dy Ho Er Tm Yb Lu Hf Ta W  Re Os Ir Pt Au Hg
Tl Pb Bi Po At Rn Fr Ra Ac Th Pa U  Np Pu Am Cm Bk Cf Es Fm
Md No Lr Rf Db Sg Bh Hs Mt Ds Rg Cn Nh Fl Mc Lv Ts Og