Wednesday, 20 April 2016


“Why, for example, should a group of simple, stable compounds of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen struggle for billions of years to organise themselves into a professor of chemistry? What’s the motive?” - Robert M. Pirsig

The theme for this week’s Poets United midweek motif is “Organic”. I have chosen the original chemical meaning of the term:
Organic: Chemistry - Relating to or denoting compounds containing carbon (other than simple binary compounds and salts) and chiefly or ultimately of biological origin [compare with inorganic].


Carbon is the backbone
Onto which latches ample hydrogen,
With oxygen here and there,
Scant nitrogen, sulphur, phosphorus.

Organic – the chemistry of life,
Its complex macromolecules
Aggregating with endless variety,
Forming viscid globules, chains, nets…

Organic is so weak, so vulnerable,
Compared to say, silica:
Quartz crystal tough, transparent, sharp
And so simply inorganic.

And as the atoms whirl in space
And collide and exchange energies
Forming bonds, cohering, sharing electrons,
And reach more stable states,

How does the fragile organic
Form such perilous unions
And dangerous aggregations
As the murderous human?
   More toxic than arsenic,
   More harmful than uranium,
   More caustic than hydrofluoric acid,
   More damaging than inorganic mercury?


  1. Yikes! I'm tempted to answer your question by saying "The same way we make deadly bombs and forms of energy from organic materials to extend our own lives," but I won't. Let's let it sit in poetic form, resonating through our lives as we dance our organic way in our world. Bravo for such brilliance, thank you.

  2.'ve nailed it today!!

  3. The innocence of being can really be a challenge at different times! Very scientific take Nicholas!


  4. Wow. This is powerful, sadly so true. I love your scientific way of describing the human condition.

  5. A fantastic write, with a question at the end that resounds in my soul.

  6. I love it when science, art, caution and a bit of skepticisim combine. Organic compounds are a wonder. volitile, life giving, absoltely dangerous.

  7. I think that I will deviate from the rest of the comments by concentrating on the quote. The author is one of a well-known family residing in Minneapolis: his father, a one-time dean of the U of MN law school, Pirsig whom you quote wrote one of my favourite books, The Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance, and one of his sons was tragically murdered in San Francisco, I believe. Haven't thought of him for a long time and I just might dig up the book and reread it again after all these years.

  8. Yes, fragile organic can break the back of strong inorganic... Humans can be such monsters...

  9. What a clever poem - the opening quote made me chuckle - seems a knowledge of chemistry can be very poetic and meaningful....and the conclusion - sadly true..we are walking balls of mercury!

  10. All so clinical . If it were just that and that was all there is to us it would be very depressing. But there is a magic somewhere that gives us Bach Bresianello Victoria Sponge cakes Spanokopita Smiling and we will never know what it is .And why would we want to indeed. Does reading the analyses of the fugues give us the same overwhelming feeling of listening to a fugue ? Too much science will ruffle the lovely contours of your artistic brain,Nicholas! OK lecture over:)

  11. Amazing poem, Nicholas. Makes me think about the meanings of organic in a different way. So weak at its root, but when combined it can wreak its havoc! Enjoyed your use of the I am one who enjoys the reality of poetry rather than the superficial or words combine in a way that mean nothing! Thanks for this.

  12. This is absolutely incredible..!! Powerful write.

  13. Point of order, Professor: Hydrofluoric acid is acidic, is corrosive, is not caustic.

    1. Hmmm, yes, true in a chemical sense. In medicine (which is my background), however, "caustic" has a broader meaning based on the effect of various substances on tissue:
      "The vast majority of caustic chemicals are acidic or alkaline substances that damage tissue by accepting a proton (alkaline substance) or donating a proton (acidic substance) in an aqueous solution. The pH of a chemical is a measure of how easily the chemical accepts or donates a proton."