Haiku by a Robot [...]

Digital literature scholar Zach Whalen discovers the most amazing poem in Highlights magazine: “Haiku by a Robot”. While many people saw his tweeting of the poem as ironic, Whalen digs deep into the true brilliance of the poem. (Link)

The poem:

Haiku by a Robot

Seven hundred ten
Seven hundred eleven
Seven hundred twelve.

— Nathan Beifuss, Age 9
California

Haiku by a Robot. (source)
Haiku by a Robot. (source)

First, Whalen argues, the choice of reducing a poem to numbers has precedent, and can be profound, especially in a context such as this, where the conceit plays off of the semantics of the title. Here we see that robots can actually express beauty and form, even if differently than humans. I’m unsure if Nathan provided the drawing as well, but together there is a sense of machines groping towards humanity, but perhaps being as much defined by the gap.

Second, although readers might not realize this, haiku sequences in the ordinals are rare. In fact, this sequence, starting at 710 and continuing to 712, is the first sequence in English that can be expressed as a haiku pattern, and one of only twelve sequences under a million that can be written that way.

In short, it’s not an easy poem to have written, and it’s not a meaningless poem either. The poem is discovered, true, but so are many meaningful things.


History is full of examples of artist “discovering” art in the accidental or the naturally occuring. Kandinsky “discovered” abstract art by “accident”. See On Its Side

Artistic context makes the mundane artistic. Perhaps. See Objet Trouve

Computers have actually been writing poetry for some time. See The Policeman’s Beard is Half Constructed

Whalen mentions the number poems of Mills. Here is Mills and his wife reading one in the the late 1960s. See Number Poem for Two Voices

There is a fascination with art expressed through mechnical constraint. See Basics of ASCII Art

The mechanistic has an interesting relationship to artistic control. See Stravinsky’s Player Piano

via Haiku by a Robot.