Sunday, August 15, 2010

Science Poetry: The Perfume, A. D. Hope

I ran across this gem while trolling randomly through the archives of The Wondering Minstrels. It's the newest incarnation of the archives of an old mailing list, long gone out of service, but at least all the poems and commentary are still there. I'm in the process of going through all the poems, starting from no. 1. It's a wonderful archive, and I highly recommend spending some time there.

"... marked males of the silkworm moth have been known to fly upwind seven miles to a fragrant female of their kind ... the chemical compound with which a female silkworm moth attracts mates is highly specific; no other species seem aware of it. In 1959, the Nobel Laureate Adolph Butenandt of the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Munich succeeded in analysing it. He found it to be an alcohol with sixteen carbon atoms per molecule...."

L. and M. Milne: The Senses of Animals and Men.

0 Chloƫ, have you heard it,
This news I sing to you?
It's true, my lovely bird, it
Is absolutely true!
A biochemist probing
Has caught without a doubt
The Queen of Love disrobing
And found her secret out.

What drives the Bombyx mori
To fly, intrepid male,
Lured by the old, old story
Six miles against the gale?
The formula, my Honey,
Is now in print to prove
What is, and no baloney,
The very stuff of love.

At Munich on the Isar
Those molecules were found
Which everyone agrees are
What makes the world go round;
What draws the male creation
To love, my darling doll,
Turns out, on trituration,
To be an alcohol.

A Nobel Laureatus
Called Adolph Butenandt
Contrived to isolate us
This strong intoxicant.
The boys are celebrating
And singing at the club:
Here's Bottoms up! to mating,
Since Venus keeps a pub!

My angel, 0, my angel,
What is it you suffuse,
What redolent evangel,
What nosegay of good news?
What draws me like a dragnet
And holds and keeps me tight?
What odds! my fragrant magnet,
I shall be drunk tonight!

-- A. D. Hope [source]

Figure 1: Bombykol, from Wikipedia. "Doesn't that structure make you simply wild with desire?"

I remember hearing stories about this compound, or one very like it, in my organic chemistry class. Apparently, whenever someone wanted to deliver a vial of it across campus, they would be pursued by a gradually accumulating swarm of moths. I like to play that scene in my head. "I'm a synthetic chemist -- I did not sign up for entomological fieldwork!! *panicked fleeing across campus*"

No comments:

Post a Comment