Cosmic Gall

John Updike was a novelist, poet, short story writer and literary critic. His careful wordcraft was just as powerful when he made science his subject. Here is his 1960 poem Cosmic Gall.

Neutrinos, they are very small.
They have no charge and have no mass
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dustmaids down a drafty hall
Or photons through a sheet of glass.
They snub the most exquisite gas,
Ignore the most substantial wall,
Cold shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall,
And, scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me. Like tall
And painless guillotines they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
At night, they enter at Nepal
And pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed – you call
It wonderful; I call it crass.

Note: It turns out some neutrinos do have mass, but we didn’t know this in 1960.

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