Friday, December 16, 2011


Lately I have been reading for the second time one of the two books I have on cryptcracking (the other is by Simon Singh, see code cracking): Richard Belfield, Can you crack the Enigma Code? (Orion pb 2007). It describes many unsolved cases of encryption: the Voynich manuscript (possibly a work of Roger Bacon the 13th-century Franciscan scientist and cryptographer?); the 18th-century Shugborough monument (imitating Poussin's shepherds of Arcady, without the motto ET IN ARCADIA EGO, but with the enigmatic inscription
D     O.U.O.S.V.A.V    M); the Beale papers (19th century, there's gold in them thar hills in Virginia) possibly devised by Edgar Allan Poe, whose story The Gold Bug is one that I struggled with when I was very young, but it must have set me on this "cryptcracking" path (though I have never coveted gold).
   The title suggests that Belfield will talk about the World War II German Enigma Machine, but it is only mentioned in a sentence on page 17, depicted on a colour plate between pages 84 and 85, and this would be because the Enigma code was broken by the tireless workers at Bletchley Park (p. 16), and this book is "a celebration of those codes that have defeated human ingenuity" , even though Poe had declared in 1841 that "human ingenuity cannot concoct a cipher which human ingenuity cannot resolve".
   The Enigma that Belfield does examine is Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations (the underlying theme is still a mystery, though my proposed solution is presented here, as The Elgar regal enigma).
Note that as I write this I am listening to Bach's Mass in B Minor, for inspiration, since it is now known that this opus has a numerological and cryptographical system running through it.
   In my capacity as Cryptcracker, I receive mysterious inscriptions from interested readers of my site, and I trust that they have not forged them. But now a brand-new enigma book has been sent to me by its author (not an alleged medieval manuscript, as in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose):
even gods ears ache: poems by john patterson
(steel roberts aotearoa 2011).
 John Patterson (
   This particular John Patterson describes himself as a "retired philosophy lecturer", and he reminds us about his books on Maori/ Chinese/ environmental philosophy (all of which I possess and have studied). We were in the same department at Massey University in Palmerston North; his teaching-subject (in case you skipped over that bit) was philosophy (including logic and critical thinking) and mine was religion (illogical and uncritical). And here he is speaking in the name of god/ God! We shared a lot of laughter, and I remember one of his significant and quite innocent pronouncements intending no offence (made after reading the Qur'an from cover to cover): In the Bible the wages of sin is death, in the Koran the wages of death is sin [so to speak, alcohol is not forbidden in Paradise, and there are other seductive delights].
   When the little volume arrived, I was going to a funeral, so I took it along and recited aloud some choice verses from it, to my driver, my wife Helen.
   Let's start our analysis of the work with the sample on the back cover [51.4]:
take your time jack 
dont read this poem 
till your eyes find   
some hint some clue
   So, no capitals, no punctuation, and at the heart of the text its form is revealed as "this four word four line grid" [29.4]. And we are invited to look for clues to solve the mystery. Is this a cryptic clue: "code name zero zero four" [59.2].
   Incidentally, it is branded as an "anti poem poem book" [31.3]. The last words are: "stay here poet last  time your feet went down that road they came back very sore" [64.4]. Curiouser and curiouser. Well we are curious to know whether "last time" refers to his previous poetry book: cant find rest room (nagare press 1991), since he tells us this new one may be regarded as the second edition of that one (see 15.3 for that rest room).
   Each verse seems unrelated to the others in its set. One wonders whether each stanza was originally on a separate slip, in order, but a rogue wind blew them into an entirely new (and not logical) sequence. Perhaps it is  the reader's task to reconstruct this great edifice as an orderly pack of cards (though not a house of cards). He seems to say so: "card game pick card" [60.2].
   Anyway, the pattern of the poems is outlined thus:
lamp post poem went

down page like that
with each word over
last word then stop [54.4]
   There are 56 poems in the collection, each having four verses comprising four lines with four words.
   Probe deeper and you will find that the 56 x 4 verses (total 224, and 2+2=4) and the 224 x 4 lines (total 896) have 896 x 4 words (total 3584) and all 3584 of them are (by hook or by crook [400m, hada, itll] and forget apostrophes) four-letter words. However, the most notorious word in that category (which begins with the same letter as four) never comes up; sex only rears its head as make love [64.3].
    John was/is a mathematician, but his numerical system is here strictly limited: four and five and nine are the only permitted factors:
"shes bout five foot / four five five slim / deep blue eyes long / dark hair good legs" [12.2]; "nine mile" [14.20]; "back then when four  plus four made nine  folk took life easy  they were only kids" [55.1]. However, nought (0) makes an appearance in a profound problem: "zero over zero does  that make more than  zero dont know less  than zero dont know" [33.1].
   Mystic: from his Taoist practice (txting, txting): "mpty your head mpty  your mind each idea  will seep away sink  down past your toes" [33.2].
   Prophet: Not always with keen clarity: "mine eyes have seen  know that song mine  eyes have seen seen  what what came next" [42.1]. Sometimes lacks certainty: 'will that chap they  call lord come back  will that chap they  call king ever rule" [58.4]. However, there is certainty with regard to ecology: "axes bite thud sink  deep into soft wood  this tree will fall  tiny eggs will drop" [55.4]; "when that acid rain  gets here your skin  will burn away  even your soul will peel" [59.1]
  TheĆ²logist: deity is mentioned often, in a polytheistic fashion: "they have many gods  demi gods semi gods  hemi semi demi gods  many many many gods" [43.3]. On holy war: "army wins wars with  gods help plus guns" [12.3]; but "gods side lost this time" [25.4].
   John Patterson the practical person shines here: "your left foot goes  into your left sock  your left sock goes  into your left shoe" [61.2]. This great sage taught me how to tie up my shoelaces; my mother had ingrained a slippery granny-knot into my subconscious mind; John made me think what I was doing and I changed to a solid reef-knot (as I had learned in the Balmain Boy Scout brigade), and now I don't need to put another knot on top to keep the main one from untying itself.
   Boating: always one for "messing about in boats": "wide days warm days  sail boat days with sara" [52.1]; "boat plan nine foot  long four foot wide  tiny gaff sail uses  oars when wind dies" [21.1]; "fold that edge back  over this bolt rope  then hold them down  sail will stay flat" [36.2]; "head sail ties onto  fore stay main sail  ties onto boom then  that ties onto mast" [22.3]. You  can put these bits into the correct order yourself.
   Moviegoer: I have met John at the cinema at times, even at an opera movie: "seen that marx bros  film yeah well when  shes hada skin full  pams just like that" [56.4]; an allusion to A Night at the Opera? or the woman in the bath with Harpo in the first one I ever saw (Duck Soup?).
   There is a soap opera running through it all: "some half wits told  anna that kens been  seen with mary reid  poor kens real wild" [33.3]. It is a love story: "love your legs love  your arms love your  ears love your eyes  even love your nose" [17.4]
   Music: the title of the collection is found  in the first poem [9.4]; I sing in a five-part choir, and the extra unwritten part is often unwittingly provided by me: "when they yell that  five part hymn with  loud bass drum beat  even gods ears ache".
   Maaoritanga: as noted already, John ("Hone") has a deep appreciation of Maaori culture. His namesake in history is apostrophized: "chop down that flag pole hone heke" [58.1]. He mentions moko (tatoo) [64.2], and a playful "mock moko mark" [9.1, the first stanza in the book].
   Chinese: I will simply say that his every word is like a Chinese character, square script, and his syntax is simple, as in Chinese.
   Artist: "He also tries to paint". A striking example of his art is a large painting made up of little coloured squares (pixels); being a proper work of art it is meaningless viewed up close; but from the other end of the long corridor of our university department (now called the School of Etc Etc) the philosopher Bernard Russell meets our gaze (he is still there, John, and the colours have not faded). As an art critic, he opines: "paul klee ... cant even draw" [63.2]. The only illustration (a miniature on the back cover) is a cunningly constructed photographic portrait of the artist as a visionary poet (looking sideways into the future) and a pensive philosopher (with his thinking cap on) in an ecological setting (green grow the rushes).
   Let's try this hypothesis: John's poetry is created in the same way as his pictures, from small squares, which taken together give a complete view of life on Earth.
   The author is momentarily despondent: "they wont read this  dont even hope they  will itll fall upon  shut eyes dead eyes" [33.4]. I trust this reader has shown that his eyes have not been closed in the process. But I should have given a health warning at the outset: I could write a book about this book.
 E Hone, kia kaha, kia ora.

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