April 2019 Limerick Project

Structural Analysis

“The roles of the lab apparata,
Decode through the textbooks’ schemata—
E.g., microscope prudent
Evinces to students
Convictions of chemical data.”  

Returning to the week of poetic homages, the April 25 limerick borrows language from two of Emily Dickinson’s science-themed works: “‘Faith’ is a fine invention” and “The Chemical conviction.”   As with the 24 April post, the limerick merely uses wording from each of the original poems themselves, rather than attempting to navigate their complex themes.  In particular, this limerick adapts some of Dickinson’s spare and evocative phrasings to provide a poetic overview of scientific textbook illustrations.     

“The roles of the lab apparata, /
Decode through the textbooks’ schemata–”
To employ a metaphor from organic chemistry, the main rhymes in this poem were retrosynthesized from the target of the last line.  Retrosynthesis is a technique of thinking backwards that is useful in organic synthesis (building molecules). If we have a target molecule to make in the lab, we can think about taking it apart, piece by piece, one step at a time, until we are back to some easily accessible starting material.  E. J. Corey received the 1990 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for devising this technique.   

With a limerick, the familiar structure of both the poem itself (in terms of overall rhyme scheme: AABBA) and each line (anapestic meter) help to stipulate the vocabulary involved.  Here, since I was headed toward “convictions of chemical data” in the final line, lines one and two had to end in rhymes for “data,” and further, they had to center on similar themes and employ anapestic feet.  I settled on one actual word (“schemata”) to stand in for schematic drawings and one flawed Latin plural (“apparata,” where the correct plural of “apparatus” would also be “apparatus”!) to represent scientific instruments, in achieving the desired structure.  

Returning to the theme of this poem: these first two lines introduce the focus on textbook illustrations (“schemata”) as useful for understanding the purposes of lab instruments (“the roles of the lab apparata”).      

“E.g., microscope prudent /
Evinces to students /
Convictions of chemical data.”
The remainder of the poem is comparatively simple: once they are effectively guided by their lab manuals, students can gather data using instruments in the chemistry lab; one such instrument is a microscope.