Of the ninety something symbols in the periodic table,
a few award their atom an impenetrable label,
which this verse at least I hope, will help you to distinguish
since most of them are Latinate and not derived from English.
Thus Aurum spawned Au
for Gold, while Ferrum gave Fe,
ergo noble Silver, once Argentum, grabbed Ag,
Cu’s cuprum, Sn’s stannum, Na’s Natrium
the last was known in Arabic like K for Kalium;
though Mercury’s strange moniker is
something of a sneak,
as half of hyrdragyrum, is drawn from ancient Greek,
but classicists can’t help at all, although a German might,
with Tungsten’s cryptic symbol, which comes from Wolframite.
Chemists who are worth their salt can ramble on for hours,
about the mystic table and its strong clairvoyant powers.
But once upon a time it was the source of discontent,
‘til Dmitri Mendeleyev saw exactly what it meant.
In a flash of insight, which should never be diminished,
he underlined the foolishness of thinking it was finished.
Vacancies for absences had question marks assigned them -
What else could the Russian do, since nobody could find them?
As you move through chemistry, you’ll need to keep an eye on,
a most misleading beastie called the periodic ion,
whose syllables assemble in the per-iodic way -
small wonder that the layman sometimes falters in dismay!
Here’s hoping you’ve gained insight from these elementary verses
and your knowledge of the table, having read them, none the worse is.
Should memorising all those names imbue your heart with terror,
be thankful that you have the help of lyrics by Tom Lehrer.
To hear Tom Lehrer's 'Elements' song (to which Geoff Lander's poem pays homage) click on the picture.
If you have any comments on this poem, Geoff Lander would be pleased to hear from you.