Monday, June 13, 2005

Poem of the Week 6/13/2005: V.B. Nimble, V.B. Quick

V.B. Nimble, V.B. Quick

Science, Pure and Applied, by V.B. Wigglesworth, F.R.S., Quick
Professor of Biology in the University of Cambridge.
-a talk listed in the BBC's Radio Times

V.B. Wigglesworth wakes at noon,
Washes, shaves, and very soon
Is at the lab; he reads his mail,
Tweaks a tadpole by the tail,
Undoes his coat, removes his hat,
Dips a spider a vat
Of alkaline, phones the press,
Tells them he is F.R.S.,
Subdivides six protocells,
Kills a rat by ringing bells,
Writes a treatise, edits two
Symposia on "Will Man Do?,"
Gives a lecture, edits three,
Has the Sperm Club in for tea,
Pensions off an aging spore,
Cracks a test tube, takes some pure
Science and applies it, finds
His hat, adjusts it, pulls the blinds,
Instructs the jellyfish to spawn,
And, by one o'clock, is gone.

John Updike 1954

Good morning friends and family! This poem is somewhat lighter than most
PotWs, as this is a vacation Poem of the Week! Yes, I am on vacation, but I
refuse to abandon the Monday poetry post. So this analysis will be a bit
shorter as well (possibly with more typos, as this keyboard is difficult to
navigate). This poem is actually stuck in my head right now because it is so
rythmic and structured. I find it sticky, too, because it is nearly unbearably
clever. Updike managed to fit hilarious acts of science into one 20 line,
heavily structured poem. The imagery is hilarious, too, my favorite being
"kills a rat by ringing bells." This line is possibly a sinister
nod to Pavlov and his famous dog experiments.

What I like, also, about this poem (besides its hilarity), is its self
similarity across scale. Just as V.B. Wigglesworth manages to accomplish so
much in the short span of an hour, the poem also includes much in its tight
twenty lines. For that matter, actually, it accomplishes as much as any other
poem in its form and rhetorical complexity. Who says that a poem has to tackle
the Meaning of Life etc. etc. in order to utilize a rich form. Updike, a
writer for the New Yorker, incorporates every bit of detail from the quote
from which his inspiration came. He does what many other poets do, which is to
notice a detail about life and expound upon it. And he does it so that the
idea retains its humor rather than having the laughs explained out of it. Have
you all noticed that when somebody explains a joke, it maybe gets a groan but
loses everything that was funny? Well, this poem is Updike's way of explaining
this real-life funny moment. Anyway - that's vacation Poem of the Week!


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