Thursday Poem

The Dance of the Solids— excerpts

All things are Atoms: Earth and Water, Air
.. And Fire, all, Democritus foretold.
.. Swiss Paracelsus, in his alchemic lair,
.. Saw Sulfur, Salt, and Mercury unfold
.. Amid Millennial hopes of faking Gold.
.. Lavoisier dethroned Phlogiston; then
.. Molecular Analysis made bold
.. Forays into the gases: Hydrogen
Stood naked in the dazzled sight of Learned Men.

The Solid State, however, kept its grains
.. Of Microstructure coarsely veiled until
.. X-ray diffraction pierced the Crystal Planes
.. That roofed the giddy Dance, the taut Quadrille
.. Where Silicon and Carbon Atoms will
.. Link Valencies, four-figured, hand in hand
.. With common Ions and Rare Earths to fill
.. The lattices of Matter, Glass or Sand,
With tiny Excitations, quantitively grand.

The Metals, lustrous Monarchs of the Cave,
.. Are ductile and conductive and opaque
.. Because each Atom generously gave
.. Its own Electrons to a mutual Stake,
.. A Pool that acts as Bond. The Ions take
.. The stacking shape of Spheres, and slip and flow
.. When pressed or dented; thusly Metals make
.. A better Paper Clip than Window,
Are vulnerable to Shear, and, heated, brightly glow.

Ceramic, muddy Queen of human Arts,
.. First served as simple Stone. Feldspar supplied
.. Crude Clay; and Rubies, Porcelain, and Quartz
.. Came each to light. Aluminum Oxide
.. Is typical—a Metal is allied
.. With Oxygen ionically; no free
.. Electrons form a lubricating tide,
.. Hence, Empresslike, Ceramics tend to be
Resistant, porous, brittle, and refractory.

Continue poem here

by John Updike
Scientific American, 2020