Philosophy Magazine

The Arbitrary Poem

By Stfallen @stfallen

Last year, a project called Poetry Assessor sprung up, claiming to be able to assess a poem’s worth by applying computational linguistics, facilitating high volume filtering of poetry submissions.

One of the poems that were ranked by the Poetry Assessor that caught my attention was Dylan Thomas’ “The Hand That Signed The Paper”.

Here, I have deconstructed the poem into an arbitrary schema, treating each word for what it is in a meta sense of language:

Arbitrary poem

A study “Ranking Canonical English Poems” by Michael Dalvean at the School of Politics and International Relations, Australian National University, published in the Literary and Linguistic Computing journal, published by Oxford University Press, details the process of these assessments.

It can be read here.

William Blake’s “A Poison Tree” was found to rank highest.

Naturally, my interest in computational linguistics picqued, so I decided to have a go at it and found this phrase parser:


This is just one of the dimensions through which a human mind parses information in the form of words in clauses, but it is also a dimension accessible and, apparently, comprehensible to machines. Surely, there are unconscious processes working in our minds that programmers may find incredibly difficult to put down to an algorithm. Maybe, machines don’t need human programmers to write that algorithm. Perhaps, The Singularity will see machines tapping into those unconscious processes. Either way, it is an exciting time to be alive if you are willing to be intellectually stimulated!

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