April 2019 Limerick Project

Earth Day

“Via STEM, we explore what’s attainable,
Our efforts towards world more sustainable.
We must seek to strive:
Find ways for Earth to thrive,
For ‘to yield’ would be act unexplainable.”  

In the week beginning with 22 April 2019, I changed my approach slightly, writing a set of five poems geared towards the American Chemical Society’s “Chemists Celebrate Earth Week” celebration, focusing on green chemistry and other efforts in environmental sustainability. The specific motto for 2019 was “Take Note: The Chemistry of Paper,” and this was enough motivation to bring in some direct allusions to some beloved poets and poems.  (After all, these poems were recorded on paper in their moments of inspiration!)    

Thus, in this limerick and the four following (from April 22-26, 2019), I alluded to famous poems or poetic works that could be read to address a scientific theme, paying appropriate tribute in the hashtags.  This first was written for Earth Day itself; the 22 April 2019 limerick echoes some of the words of a favorite poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.   

“Via STEM, we explore what’s attainable,/
Our efforts towards world more sustainable.”

The first two lines acknowledge the work underway by many scientists in efforts of sustainability: ecological and other interdisciplinary investigations of the complexity of our increasingly interconnected world.  

“We must seek to strive:/ Find ways for Earth to thrive,/
For ‘to yield’ would be act unexplainable.”  

The end of the limerick borrows from the closing of Tennyson’s “Ulysses”:

“…tho’ / We are not now that strength which in old days/
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;/
One equal temper of heroic hearts,/
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will/
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

I referenced the famous final sequence of verbs (“to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”) in my last three lines, using Tennyson’s words in exhorting scientists never to give up in “seek[ing] a newer world.”       

It is challenging to write more than an explanation of the limerick’s verbiage.  I cannot share any academic expertise about Tennyson’s poem; it is simply one I cherish. That the poem ends with a negative infinitive is perhaps my favorite aspect: the last three syllables do not say “to succeed” (or some more poetic positive phrase!), but rather “not to yield.”  In so many situations, the temptation to succumb to fear is immense; the image of the king– idle no longer, choosing NOT to yield, resolutely rejoining the fray– is tremendously moving. (See also: Théoden.)  

Looking back at this limerick one year later, from a challenging April 2020: may we all continue to be strong in will, through the days ahead.