THE LESSER MORTAL − Geoff Lander

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Both song lyrics and science fascinate Geoff Lander. After a stroke put paid to employment in computing, he began to copy out (and later write his own) lyrical poetry—initially as a way of recovering confidence in his right hand.

He is now a regular attender at a local Stanza group. Here, in the delightfully educative pages of his debut pamphlet, he calls in some of the great names of science, not all of them familiar to the lesser mortal. But why on earth not?

The Lesser Mortal is unique among HappenStance pamphlets in being characterised by charming and educative footnotes to every poem. It offers food for thought, and wonderful entertainment, to scientists and poets alike.

 

FORTY WINKS FOR DMITRI MENDELEEV

While grappling with atomic weights
this pioneering prof
gave his weary eyes a rest and, hey-ho,
nodded off.

Did alcohol play any role?
A chemist, so it may’ve.
No matter. Dreaming sorted things
for clever Mendeleev.

The genius saw the need for gaps
and happily was able
to wake and, in a jiffy, jot
a periodic table¹.

His doubts concerning valencies
and foresight (leaving spaces²)
gave his fame a massive boost
and chemistry a basis.

¹Mendeleev claimed to have seen in a dream how the elements fitted together in theperiodic table. Any number of scientists were on the right track: Döbereiner, Newlands, Meyer, but Mendeleev got there first. Meyer and Mendeleev both studied with Bunsen, of bunsen burner fame.

²Mendeleev strongly suspected some atomic weights or valencies were wrong and therefore held slots open pending the discovery of the unknown elements.