Wolfe’s Arcana. Or: Midjourney, Meet Gene Wolfe

My friend Becca is visiting us here at Casa Hernandooney. As Carlos and I were putting the final touches on our savory apple pie (bacon, onion, thyme, smoked cheddar), she was wandering our apartment, surveying it as a patroness of a very goofy museum.

Hearing her laugh out loud, I trotted out of the kitchen to see what’d she gotten into.

She’d found my Gene Wolfe shelf.

Gene Wolfe is the reason that Becca and Carlos and I are friends. Gene was my writing mentor since I was 18. Becca is Gene’s granddaughter.

The three of us met as adults about a year after Gene passed away, right as Becca was moving away from New York with a freshly minted PhD. We all hit it off immediately as fast friends/adopted cousins/long-lost siblings.

And, well, here we are.

As I spied on her, Becca began a close inspection of all my Gene Wolfe books. She read each of his personal inscriptions and dedications, making loving noises over his dear handwriting.

Eventually, she started reading aloud from some of his poems in For Rosemary. I told her my favorite used to be “Old People Die Like Toads” and “For the Strawberry Girl,” which he’d written for his wife Rosemary.

Then we came upon the poem “The Computer Iterates the Greater Trumps,” which I knew he’d won the Rhysling Award for in ’78. Plopping down on the couch, we asked Carlos read to it aloud, so we could all discuss it.

Then… AND THEN…!!! Carlos had THE BEST IDEA EVER.

“We could put some of these images into Midjourney,” said he.

“We could MAKE A WHOLE MAJOR ARCANA DECK according to Gene’s poem!” I shouted.

Becca, who’d never see AI-generated art, scooted in close to watch the first few incredible iterations based on the first verse, “Trump 21: The Universe.”

We decided that moment to text Gene’s daughter Teri (Becca’s auntie, my other informally adopted sister, and Gene’s executor) right away and propose the project, because we were VERY BUBBLY about it.

She gave us her blessing to reprint the poem on our website with the AI-generated illustrations, and here, my friends, we are! At work, and having a most ludic and loving evening.

I have typed out the poem as it appears in my copy of For Rosemary. After each verse, we added Becca’s favorite selection from the images that Carlos and Midjourney generated after feeding Gene’s verses in.

I think Gene would be totally tickled by the idea of a computer iterating the greater trumps, based entirely on his poem “The Computer Iterates the Greater Trumps.”

Interestingly, we had to do some censoring of the poem when entering Gene’s verses into Midjourney, which does not allow words like “naked” or “breast” or “bare” or “bleed.” We were timed out of Midjourney for a whole four minutes before we quite realized why.

We also chose not to use any words for prompts that would now be considered racial slurs. When inputting the text from Trump (6), we used “Romani” instead of the original text, and put the word “Romani” in brackets for this reprint.


The Computer Iterates the Greater Trumps

Poem by Gene Wolfe
Art by Midjourney
(With input from Carlos Hernandez, Rebecca Spizzirri, and C. S. E. Cooney)

DIMENSIONS Trumps (21)
Do 1969 I = 1, 22
N = 22 – I
Trump (N)

Trump (21)
The Universe includes by definition all,
That Man has seen since his great fall.
God’s calling card this, upon our silver Disch,
On what table? In what house? In what hall?

Wolfe’s Arcana 21: The Universe

Trump (20)
The 666th Judgement, and my screed betrays
Unlearnt foreknowledge of those coming days.
The angels come to smite the sea and land,
The anti-Christ for us—and slays.

Wolfe’s Arcana 20: Judgement

Trump (19)
The Sun the dancing children love,
Casts down his radiance from above.
Fusion, fission, no remission;
So small a house, so large a stove.

Wolfe’s Arcana 19: The Sun

Trump (18)
The Moon, stillborn sister of our Earth,
Pale-faced observes the living birth.
Soon, soon, the sister’s children come,
To plow and plant that stony turf.

Wolfe’s Arcana 18: The Moon

Trump (17)
The Star, sky-ruler by default,
Pours out two waters: fresh and salt.
Naked, bare-breasted girl, and (whisper)
Magna Mater of the Old Cult.

Wolfe’s Arcana 17: The Star

Trump (16)
The Falling Tower, smote by God,
Thunders in ruins to the sod.
Master, it needs no wit to read this card.
Master, you must wait his rod.

Wolfe’s Arcana 16: The Falling Tower

Trump (15)
The Devil straddles his searing throne,
With power in his hands alone!
He says,
We have been shown; we have been shown; we have been
shown

Wolfe’s Arcana 15: The Devil

Trump (14)
Death in this deck’s no gibb’ring shade,
But naked peasant with a blade;
Think on that, thou unfought people! And
Remember whence these cards were made.

Wolfe’s Arcana 14: Death

Trump (13)
The Hanged Man hangs by his feet,
Knew you that? His face, so sweet,
Almost a boy’s.
He hangs to bleed. Who waits to eat?

Wolfe’s Arcana 13: The Hanged Man

Trump (12)
The Wheel of Fortune; cause and effect;
God will save his own elect;
The wheel turns until it stops—
The bitch within runs till she drops.

Wolfe’s Arcana 12: The Wheel of Fortune

Trump (11)
Sworded Justice weighs us men,
Then, sordid, weighs us up again.
Weren’t not more justice just to slay?
Slaying sans guilt to slay again?

Wolfe’s Arcana 11: Justice

Trump (10)
Fortitude with hands like laws,
Clamps shut the writhing lion’s jaws;
Ignoring his beseeching eyes,
Ignoring his imploring paws.

Wolfe’s Arcana 10: Fortitude

Trump (9)
Taking two hands in the Tarot game,
Temperance, with Time her other name.
Pouring light into a golden cup.
Watering our wine. Drowning our fame.

Wolfe’s Arcana 9: Temperance

Trump (8)
The Hermit with his lamp and staff,
Treads all alone his lonely path.
He who hath no one,
Know you who he hath?

Wolfe’s Arcana 8: The Hermit

Trump (7)
The Lovers mean birth as well as lust,
Read ye that riddle as ye must;
Men from semen, O ye people!
Dust from dust from dust from dust.

Wolfe’s Arcana 7: The Lovers

Trump (6)
The Chariot’s a [Romani] car,
And we the happy drivers are,
With whip and reins and endless pains,
So far, so far, so far.

Wolfe’s Arcana 6: The Chariot

Trump (5)
The Emperor for worldly power,
To shake and scream a fleeting hour;
To this a bribe, to that a bullet—
Remember, Master, the Falling Tower?

Wolfe’s Arcana 5: The Emperor

Trump (4)
The Hierophant, the Pope, the Priest;
Today we fast, tomorrow, feast.
The bridegroom was with us yesterday;
The Hierophant remains, at least.

Wolfe’s Arcana 4: The Hierophant

Trump (3)
The Lady Hierophant, good Pope Joan,
Who will not let the truth alone;
A scholar killed her yestereve,
Today she’s sidling toward the throne.

Wolfe’s Arcana 3: The Lady Hierophant

Trump (2)
The Empress, Nature, loving and cruel,
Grim mistress of the one hard school,
Mistress of microbes,
Breaking each tool.

Wolfe’s Arcana 2: The Empress

Trump (1)
The Juggler points both drawn down and up, in mastery of
confusion
First in all the deck stands he, creator of illusion.
Sword, coin and cup before him lie,
And on his face, derision.

Wolfe’s Arcana 1: The Juggler

Trump (0)
*******FOOL*******
errorerrorerrorerror
23232323232323232323

Wolfe’s Arcana 0: The Fool

5 thoughts on “Wolfe’s Arcana. Or: Midjourney, Meet Gene Wolfe

  1. Reblogged this on C.S.E. Cooney and commented:

    Carlos, Becca and I spent a wonderful two evenings reading an old, award-winning Gene Wolfe poem about a computer iterating the greater trumps (of a tarot deck), and so we fed his verses one by one into Midjourney and had the AI iterate all the greater trumps. The full deck is here. Keep reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent results! This is the first time I’ve read one of Gene’s poems, now I need to find more.

    Would love to see his novels illustrated like this as well!

    Liked by 1 person

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