2,848 Possible Poems in Silk, by Su Hui

Chinese poet and palindromist Su Hui lost her husband to a concubine in the fourth century. Her first response was timeless: she beat the woman up.

When this failed to assuage her grief or quell her love for her husband, but instead made things worse with him, her next response was timeless in a whole other way: She set out to win him back by composing an ingenious array of 841 characters that can be read forward, backward, horizontally, vertically, and diagonally.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Xuanjitu.GIFEach seven-character segment corresponds to a poetic line, and can be read in either direction. At the end of each segment, “you encounter a junction of meridians and can choose which direction to go,” explains anthologist David Hinton. “You can begin anywhere, and the poem ends after four lines have been chosen. This structure generates 2,848 possible poems.”

For example, the character 心, or heart, sits right in the center of the poem. The nine-character line 蘇氏詩圖璣璇始平心(reading counter-clockwise from the character directly to the left of 心) can be read as:

Su’s picture-poem of revolving possibilities starts hence, a heart at peace.


Su’s picture-poem of potentials revolves around a heart here at 始平 [the name of her hometown].

File:Su Hui with a palindrome.jpgShe stitched her gorgeous, navigable multi-verse in several colors on a small piece of silk and sent it to her husband. It is said that Su Hui’s husband was so moved that he sent away the concubine and rejoined her.


(Details about Su Hui found at Futility Closet & Late Monsoons. Images from Wikipedia.)

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