Edward Teller writing poetry in a Manhattan project lab

Read Physicist Edward Teller's Poem About Mesons

Everyone who saw Oppenheimer is familiar with physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer's love of poetry. If you saw the film, you also know of his strained relationship with the exceedingly pro-H-bomb Dr. Edward Teller.

What you may not know is that in 1947 Teller and Oppenheimer were cordial enough to continue to exchange friendly letters.

Teller was a bit of a poet himself, and in March 1947 he sent Oppenheimer a poem he composed along with fellow physicist Bill McMillan about mesons. It rhymes.

I discovered this poem while going through Oppenheimer's papers at the Library of Congress. I hope you find it as amusing as I did.

Teller's Poem:

There are mesons π, there are mesons μ,
The former ones serve as nuclear glue
There are mesons ζ, or so we suspect
And many more mesons which we can't yet detect

Can't you see them at all?
Well, hardly at all
For their lifetimes are short
And their ranges are small.

The mass may be small, the mass may be large,
We may find a positive or negative charge,
And some mesons never will show on a plate
For their charge is zero, though their mass is quite great

What, no charge at all?
No, no charge at all!
Or, if Blackett is right
It's exceedingly small

Some beautiful pictures are thrown on the screen,
Though the tracks of the mesons can hardly be seen,
Our desire for knowledge is most deeply stirred
When the statements of Serber can never be heard.

What, not heard at all?
No, not heard at all!
Very dimly seen
And not heard at all!

There are mesons λ at the end of our list
Which are hard to be found but are easily missed,
In cosmic-ray showers they live and they die
But you can't get a picture, they are camera-shy.

Well, do they exist?
Or don't they exist?
They are on our list
But are easily missed.

From mesons all manner of forces you get,
The infinite part you simply forget,
The divergence is large, the divergence is small,
In the meson field quanta there is no sense at all.

What, no sense at all?
No, no sense at all!
Or, if there is some sense
It's exceedingly small.

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