by Roald Hoffman

Horse manure, piled
up at the edge
of a plowed field;
straw, shit, horse
urine, that heap of
brown textured life
is steaming away
in the winter air
with the heat of

Which is breaking
down, engineered
by worms, bacteria
all the enzymatic
of decay to that bio-
chemical lego of
N, S, and P; dung --
to be transformed,
yes, in that field, to
hot peppers, straw-
berries and cress.


But other chemistry
is set loose by dung
in man; your nose
catches a molecule,
just a few electrons
get you past neural
to riding lessons,
earlier, to Uniow,
where we hid; earlier,
to two sunny days
I had before
the attic door shut,
an hour in Dyuk’s
stable for a free boy.

Free in the end also
to be no different
from burrowing
beetles and parasites;
drawn to that fetid
opulence, not being
ashamed to say so;
wanting – no, beetles
don’t – to remember, 
be changed, be free.

Biographical Details

Roald Hoffmann is the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Human Letters in the Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Cornell University, New York. He received his Ph.D from Harvard in 1962, and since then has been the recipient of numerous awards and prizes, including the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1981, The American Chemical Society Priestly Medal, Arthur C. Cope Award in Organic Chemistry, and the National Medal of Science. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Foreign member of the Royal Society.

His most recent collection of poems is Soliton (Truman State University Press, 2002).

An essay by Roald Hoffmann, "Science, Language, Poetry", can be found at:

“Roald Hoffmann’s land between chemistry, poetry and philosophy” can be found at http://www.roaldhoffmann.com/.

For further information on the work of Roald Hoffmann see: