The Chess Variant Pages



Chess Morality XVI: Body of Chess

By George William Duke



Who would therefore looke dangerously up at Planets that might safely look downe at Plants?
--John Gerard, 'Herball' (1597)


They are ill-discoverers that think there is no Land when they can see nothing but Sea.
--Sir Francis Bacon


Postern of Fate, the Desert Gate, Disaster's Cavern, Fort of Fear
Pass not beneath, O Caravan, or pass not singing. Have you heard
That silence where the Birds are dead, yet something pipeth like a Bird?
Pass not beneath! Men say there blows in stony deserts still a rose
But with no scarlet to her leaf--and from whose heart no perfume flows.
--James Elroy Flecker, "Gates of Damascus"


'One of this nation of mighty conjurers created a man out of brass and wood, and leather, and endowed him with such ingenuity that he would beat at Chess all the race of mankind with the exception of the great Caliph, Haroun Alrashid.' 'Ridiculous,' said the King. 'Another had the faculty of converting the common metals into gold. Another had such delicacy of touch that he made a wire so fine as to be invisible. Another had such quickness of perception that he counted all the separate motions of an elastic body, while it was springing backward and forward at the rate of nine hundred millions of times in a second.' 'Absurd,' said the King. 'Another commanded the lightning to come down to him out of the heavens, and it came at his call, and served him for a plaything when it came. Another took two loud sounds and out of them made a silence. Another constructed a deep darkness out of two brilliant lights. Another made ice in a red-hot furnace. Another directed the Sun to paint his portrait, and the Sun did. Another took this Luminary with the Moon and the Planets, and having first weighed them with scrupulous accuracy, probed into their depths and found the solidity of the substance of which they are made.' 'Preposterous,' said the King. .... She derived, however, great consolation (during the tightening of the bowstring), from the reflection that much of the history remained still untold...'
--Edgar Allen Poe, "The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade"


O something alive was dying in the bowcord and it said
Allow me to choke to death and you'll have night forever
and they let the Sun go'
--Fox, North American, "The Little Random Creatures"


Mercury the Bishop, Venus the Queen
Mars Knight, Saturn Rook, Jupiter the King.
Caissa's seeming motions like as orbits seen,
The playing field on Earth, each trailing Ring
About Sol shapes Sun Falcon's hidden paths,
Bodies streaming equal timed and spaced swaths.

Sol: Seven pieces from the Lion to the Lamb,
Seven chakras with the Falcon as the crown,
Please spell it out or draw a diagram
On plane of the ecliptic up and down.
'Hydrogenic anguishes of the Sun'
And ring of the recurrence on the run.

Luna: No crescent or cross atones for the lack
Of a common ground in the world as made.
Mind sports must present a line of attack,
So that 'Piece' take on nature of cascade,
Like dust swept along by a shepherd Moon
And ten pawns in front of each one bestrewn.

Mars: As if "hard-wired," the Game precedes belief.
Tradition has Rook as hands, Knight as feet.
In lieu of war, Chesse offers some relief.
For wanton disregard, justice is mete,
As Ge, born from Chaos, sends Scorpion
T'destroy who would kill all life, Orion.

Mercury: Bones rattle off the Fibonacci list
In number patterns that are generate
By tracing fingers backwards toward the wrist.
Those digits measure two, three, five, then eight!
The rule picks up again its dual strength
In twenty-one next for the ulna's length.

Jupiter: 'Stars' possess, for all their enormity,
Far less structure than creature or plant.
By virtue of having complexity,
Every species 'right to life' should warrant
Reversing human doctrine of brute force
Returning nat'ral patterns to root source.

Venus: They'll ring out 'horror of the empty square.'
What predator or checkered Harlequin?
What spirits let loose on wing and a prayer?
Doubtful of their coordinates, they'll spin.
Whoso lives by the rule of slash and burn
Will end as one reduced to ash and urn.

Saturn: This reverie now drawing to a close,
One God, three Fates, five digits, seven wonders.
With those four touchstones nobody can lose,
Leastwise playing mostly free of blunders.
The Answer to Everything is o'er key clue
In another line number forty-two.

--George William Duke 2005