Collegia – Ode 18: The Chemistry Lab


(Apologies to S.T. Coleridge)

AND this place we are forced to use all morn!
This, for the practice of our hard-earned wisdom!
Is this the only way? – Merciful Heaven!
Each pore and natural outlet shrivell’d up
By burning acids and strong alkalis;
Our shirt-sleeves rolled well back upon our arms,
To analyse and make; uncomforted
And sweaty solitude, groanings and swears,
And savage faces; till the ringing bell
Sounds through the wisps of deadly vapours thick
In the lamp’s yellow twilight! So we work,
Circled with venom, till our very teeth
Unloosen from our gums, hopelessly deformed
By gases e’en more foul than festering swamp!
With other ministrations thou, O Tuckshop,
Healest thy hard-worked dismembered child:
Thou pourest on him thy soft chocolates,
They creamyhorns, apples, and other sweets;
They Fingers of Ceylon, and fags, and matches,
Till we relent and can no more endure
To be such jarring and dissonant things
Amid the feefing crowd and smoking rings.
But – goes the bell! And, bursting into sobs,
We push our way back to the cavern, full
Of the malignant stench of chemicals.

30. 11. 1927