Rhymes of Science

E = m c2

What was our trust, we trust not,
   What was our faith, we doubt;
Whether we must or must not
   We may debate about.
The soul, perhaps, is a gust of gas
   And wrong is a form of right-
But we know that Energy equals Mass
   By the Square of the Speed of Light.

What we have known, we know not,
   What we have proved, abjure.
Life is a tangled bowknot,
   But one thing still is sure.
Come, little lad; come, little lass,
   Your docile creed recite:
"We know that Energy equals Mass
   By the Square of the Speed of Light."

       Morris Bishop
           A Bowl of Bishop
           Dial Press, New York, 1954

The Purist

I give you now Professor Twist,
A conscientious scientist.
Trustees exclaimed, "He never bungles!"
And sent him off to distant jungles.
Camped on a tropic riverside,
One day he missed his loving bride.
She had, the guide informed him later,
Been eaten by an alligator.
Professor Twist could not but smile.
"You mean," he said, "a crocodile."

       Ogden Nash
           I'm a Stranger Here Myself
           Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1938


A conjecture both deep and profound
Asserts that the circle is round.
   In a paper of Erdös
   Written in Kurdish
A counterexample is found.

       Adapted from a limerick widely
          attributed to Leo Moser

Ballade of the Copenhagen Interpretation

Our colleague's pet to the box has gone,
   We have armed and set the infernal device,
Now we wait, as the clock ticks on:
   What is the state of our sacrifice?
   Mousing in Hell amid fire and ice?
Still prowling the box with meow or purr?
   Or a superposition, a sort of splice?
When does the damned collapse occur?

There's an expert here we may call upon,
   An avuncular sage whom we might entice
To explain how defining "phenomenon"
   Will resolve our dilemma in a trice.
   "Alive or dead? Yin or yang? Snails, or spice?
It's complementarity!'' Come then, sir,
   May we not ask you to be precise?
When does the damned collapse occur?

We are loath to cross our Rubicon
   And a friend has a friend, not overnice,
Who will look. But what then? When our myrmidon
   Returns, will we see him not once but twice?
   Suspended half way between mew and mice,
A double image that seems to blur?
   If he tells us his news, will that suffice?
When does the damned collapse occur?

Prince, we suspect you do not play dice—
   Here to the master we defer—
Otherwise, tell us, and name your price,
   When does the damned collapse occur?

       E. Speer

Eminent Cosmologists

Nature and nature's laws lay hid in night.
God said, "Let Newton be!" and all was light.
It could not last: the devil howling,"Ho,
Let Einstein be!" restored the status quo.

       Alexander Pope and J. C. Squire
            The Faber Book of Comic Verse
            ed. Michael Roberts
            Faber and Faber, London, 1942.

To think that two and two are four

—To think that two and two are four
   And neither five nor three
The heart of man has long been sore
   And long 'tis like to be.

       A. E. Housman
           Stanza three of poem XXXV of Last Poems
            Henry Holt, New York, 1922.

The figure which may have led you to these rhymes of science is a symbolic image, due to Jie Qi, of the Schrödinger cat paradox. Here the usual box in which the cat is imprisoned is replaced by an impossible cube. Schrödinger's cat is of course also the subject of the poem "Ballade of the Copenhagen Interpretation" above.

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Last updated 08/01/2018