The Hydra

Mike Keith
August 1998



The poem below is a transformation of William Blakeís "The Tyger" via an unusual linguistic constraint related to the Periodic Table of the Elements.  Can you guess what the constraint is, given the hint that the poem contains exactly 109 words?  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
But possessed 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!




In "The Hydra", the first letter of successive words is required to be the same as the first letter of the chemical symbols (in order) in the Periodic Table, 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 chemical names, since some of the one- and two-letter chemical abbreviations begin with a different letter than the name (e.g., Na for Sodium). The current international-standard periodic table was used for this composition, using all 109 elements which had official names at the time this was written.

There is one symbol 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 with acrostic constraints of this type.

For reference, the 109 official chemical abbreviations, 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

Another interesting constraint would be to use all letters in this list, in order, rather than just the first letter of each symbol. Since there are fourteen one-letter symbols, this will result in a composition containing 2x109 - 14 = 204 words.