Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

Haiku Wednesday: Bach’s Crab Canon


“…for yourself, sir, shall grow old as I am, if like a crab you could go backward.”

“Seems…? nay, it is, I know not ‘seems.'”


Seems it so or not?
Or can, can you know you saw?
I know and I saw.
Saw I, and know I
Saw. You know you can, can or
Not–or so it seems.

Bach’s Musical Offering provides a splendid example of a crab canon.  In a crab canon, two musicians play the musical line, one starting from the beginning, one starting from the end.  When they reach the “end”, they reverse direction and start playing toward the point at which they started.  It has been likened to a palindrome, a word or phrase which reads the same way forward and backward.

A wonderful animation has been created to illustrate the principle.

Want to see how it works for yourself?  Visit Timothy A. Smith’s page, where you can print, then cut out and make your own Möbius strip of music.

Now, look at the haiku again.

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”


2 thoughts on “Haiku Wednesday: Bach’s Crab Canon

  1. This is a very clever palindrome- yours? There are lots of verbal palindromes, as I’m sure you know. There’s one that starts “T. Eliot, top bard,” goes on at great length, and ends “drab pot toilet.” I’ll see if I can find it. Yes, it’s Moebius-strip like. A medieval trick, really (there are some famous ones, like Machaut’s “Ma fin est mon commencement.”) And Bach’s mind became more and more medieval and scholastic as he ages, as in the various canons in the “Musikalisches Opfer.”




    • Yes, it’s mine, but I only tried to manufacture one at the word level, not the letter level. There are some folks out there generating true palindromic haiku, though I don’t think I saw anything that compares with “drab pot toilet” !


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