Piet Hein

20th-century Danish mathematician, inventor, designer, writer and poet

Piet Hein (16 December 190518 April 1996) was a Danish mathematician, scientist, inventor, and poet. He often wrote using the pseudonym Kumbel (Old Norse for "tombstone").

Man is the animal that draws lines which he himself then stumbles over.


Art is solving problems that cannot be formulated before they have been solved. The shaping of the question is part of the answer.
  • After all, what is art? Art is the creative process and it goes through all fields. Einstein’s theory of relativity — now that is a work of art! Einstein was more of an artist in physics than on his violin.
    Art is this: art is the solution of a problem which cannot be expressed explicitly until it is solved.
    • As quoted in Man Creates Art Creates Man (1973) by Duane Preble, p. 14
    • Variant translation: Art is solving problems that cannot be formulated before they have been solved. The shaping of the question is part of the answer.
      • As quoted in Architecture: form, space, and order (2007) by Francis D.K. Ching, p. ix
  • Man is the animal that draws lines which he himself then stumbles over. In the whole pattern of civilization there have been two tendencies, one toward straight lines and rectangular patterns and one toward circular lines. There are reasons, mechanical and psychological, for both tendencies. Things made with straight lines fit well together and save space. And we can move easily — physically or mentally — around things made with round lines. But we are in a straitjacket, having to accept one or the other, when often some intermediate form would be better.
    • As quoted in Scandinavian Review (2003), by the American-Scandinavian Foundation, p. 18
"Grooks" was the name Hein devised for his short pithy poems, which he published in over 20 volumes. Hein's mother tongue was Danish, but he translated his poems to English, German, Spanish and a number of other languages. Some grooks online
  • Losing one glove
    is certainly painful,
    but nothing
    compared to the pain,
    of losing one,
    throwing away the other,
    and finding
    the first one again.
    • Consolation Grook, his first grook, published in Politiken (April 1940) as translated in Grooks (1966)
  • There is
    one art,
    no more,
    no less:
    to do
    all things
    with art-
    • Ars Brevis
  • Living is
    a thing you do
    now or never —
    which do you?
    • Living Is —
  • As eternity
    is reckoned
    there's a lifetime
    in a second.
    • A Moment's Thought
  • Love is like
    a pineapple,
    sweet and
    • What Love Is Like
  • Naive you are
    if you believe
    life favours those
    who aren't naive.
    • Naive —
  • Somebody said
    that Reason was dead.
    Reason said: No,
    I think not so.
    • Dead Reasonable
  • People are self-centered
    to a nauseous degree.
    They will keep on about themselves
    while I'm explaining me.
    • The Egocentrics
  • Problems worthy
    of attack
    prove their worth
    by hitting back.
    • Problems
  • Put up in a place
    where it's easy to see
    the cryptic admonishment


    When you feel how depressingly
    slowly you climb,
    it's well to remember that
    Things Take Time.

    • T.T.T. (Acronym in Danish: Ting Tager Tid)
  • The road to wisdom? — Well, it's plain
    and simple to express:
    and err
    and err again
    but less
    and less
    and less.
    • The Road to Wisdom?
  • The way to grow grand
    is not: to demand.

    In life's every field
    you are what you yield.
    • What Are You?
  • Wisdom is
    the booby prize
    given when you've been
    • Wisdom Is —
  • Freedom means
    you're free to do
    just whatever
    pleases you;
    — if, of course
    that is to say,
    what you please
    is what you may.
    • Freedom
  • The universe may
    be as great as they say.
    But it wouldn't be missed
    if it didn't exist.
    • Nothing Is Indespensable : Grook to warn the universe against megalomania
  • I am a humble artist
    moulding my earthly clod,
    adding my labour to nature's,
    simply assisting God.
    Not that my labour is needed,
    yet somehow I understand,
    my Maker has deemed it that I too should have
    Unmoulded clay in my hand.
    • Simply Assisting God
  • Whenever you're called on to make up your mind,
    and you're hampered by not having any,
    the best way to solve the dilemma, you'll find,
    is simply by spinning a penny.
    No — not so that chance shall decide the affair
    while you're passively standing there moping;
    but the moment the penny is up in the air,
    you suddenly know what you're hoping
    • A Psychological Tip
  • Co-existence
    or no existence.
    • That Is The Question : Hamlet Anno Domini
  • The noble art of losing face
    may some day save the human race
    and turn into eternal merit
    what weaker minds would call disgrace.
    • Losing Face
  • Those who always
    know what’s best
    a universal pest.
    • Those Who Know
  • A bit beyond perception's reach
    I sometimes believe I see
    that Life is two locked boxes, each
    containing the other's key.
    • The Paradox Of Life
  • Foes
    of what's cooking
    see no worth behind it.
    that are looking
    for nothing — will find it.
    • Look And Thou Shalt Find
  • if you possess
    more than just eight things
    then y o u
    are possessed by t h e m
    • The Tyranny Of Things
  • Giving in is no defeat.
    Passing on is no retreat.
    Selves are made to rise above.
    You shall live in what you love.
    • The Me Above The Me
  • Love while you've got
    love to give.
    Live while you've got
    life to live.
    • Memento Vivere
  • We shall have to evolve
    problem-solvers galore —
    since each problem they solve
    creates ten problems more.
    • The Only Solution
  • Men, said the Devil,
    are good to their brothers:
    they don’t want to mend
    their own ways, but each other's.
    • Mankind
  • The human spirit sublimates
    the impulses it thwarts;
    a healthy sex life mitigates
    the lust for other sports.
    • Hint And Suggestion : Admonitory grook addressed to youth
  • Experts have
    their expert fun
    ex cathedra
    telling one
    just how nothing
    can be done.
    • Experts
  • Shun advice
    at any price -
    that's what I call
    good advice.
    • Good Advice
  • True wisdom knows
    it must comprise
    some nonsense
    as a compromise,
    lest fools should fail
    to find it wise.
    • Lest Fools Should Fail
  • Idiots are really
    one hundred per cent
    when they are also
    • The Final Touch : Portrait of nobody in particular


  • To be and not to be, that is the answer.
    • This witticism derived from William Shakespeare's line "To be or not to be; that is the question" in Hamlet, has sometimes been attributed to Hein, but also to many others. The earliest occurrence so far located in research for Wikiquote was published in A Calendar of Doubts and Faiths (1930) by William Marias Malisoff.
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