Raymond Queneau was a French poet and novelist and the co-founder of Ouvroir de littérature potentielle .-Biography:Born in Le Havre, Seine-Maritime, Queneau was the only child of Auguste Queneau and Joséphine Mignot...
’s Hundred Thousand Billion Poems
or One hundred million million poems
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...
title: Cent mille milliards de poèmes
), published in 1961 (see 1961 in poetry
Nationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature .-Events:* January 20–Robert Frost recites his poem "The Gift Outright" at United States President John F...
), is a set of ten sonnet
A sonnet is one of several forms of poetry that originate in Europe, mainly Provence and Italy. A sonnet commonly has 14 lines. The term "sonnet" derives from the Occitan word sonet and the Italian word sonetto, both meaning "little song" or "little sound"...
s. They are printed on card with each line on a separated strip, like a heads-bodies-and-legs book. As all ten sonnets have not just the same rhyme scheme
A rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyme between lines of a poem or song. It is usually referred to by using letters to indicate which lines rhyme. In other words, it is the pattern of end rhymes or lines...
but the same rhyme sounds, any lines from a sonnet can be combined with any from the nine others, so that there are 1014
(= 100,000,000,000,000) different poems. It would take some 200,000,000 years to read them all, even reading twenty-four hours a day. When Queneau ran into trouble while writing the poem(s), he solicited the help of mathematician
A mathematician is a person whose primary area of study is the field of mathematics. Mathematicians are concerned with quantity, structure, space, and change....
Francois Le Lionnais
François Le Lionnais was a French chemical engineer and mathematician, perhaps best known as a founder of the literary movement Oulipo....
, and in the process they initiated Oulipo
Oulipo is a loose gathering of French-speaking writers and mathematicians which seeks to create works using constrained writing techniques. It was founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais...
Two full translations into English have been published, those by John Crombie and Stanley Chapman
. There is also a full translation on the internet by Beverley Charles Rowe
that uses the same rhyme sounds.
In 1984 Edition Zweitausendeins in Frankfurt a.M. published a German translation by Ludwig Harig.
In 1997, a French court decision outlawed the publication of the original poem on the Internet, citing the Queneau estate and Gallimard publishing house's exclusive moral right.