“Chemico Metrical Madrigal”

We are quite aware of Harvey Wiley’s poetic abilities by now. But his poems about chemistry and romance are perhaps the best. As a college student in a Harvard laboratory, waiting on a slow filtrate to pass through, the prophetic “Chemico Metrical Madrigal” came to Wiley’s mind, which he eventually discovered to be a depiction of the woman he married later in life, Anna Kelton.

Voice over by Eric Sievers.

I know a maiden, charming and true

With beautiful eyes like the cobalt blue

Of the borax bead, and I guess she’ll do

If she hasn’t another reaction.

Her form is no bundle of toilet shams,

Her beauty no boon of arsenical balms,

And she weighs just sixty-two kilograms

To a deci-decimal fraction.

Her hair is a crown, I can truthfully straight,

‘Tis a meter long, not curly nor straight,

And it is as yellow as plumbic chromate

In a slightly acid solution.

And when she speaks from parlor or stump,

The words which gracefully gambol and jump

Sound sweet like water in Sprengel’s pump

In magnesic phosphate ablution.

One day I said, “I will leave you for years,”

To try her love by rousing her fears

She shed a deciliter of tears, turning brown the turmeric yellow

To dry her tears, I gave her, you know, a hectogram of candy,

Also, to bathe her red eyes, some H2O

She said, “You’re a naughty fellow,”

I have bought me a lot, about a hectare,

And have built me a house, ten meters square,

And soon, I think, I shall take her there

My tart little acid radicle.

Perhaps little sailors on life’s deep sea

Will be the salts of this chemistry,

And the lisp of the infantile A, B, C

Be the refrain of this madrigal.

Click to view Chemico Metrical Madrigal in its original form as preserved by the Library of Congress (acquired by Eric Sievers, reprinted here with the approval of Wiley’s family).

Anna Campbell Kelton, a maiden around the time Wiley met her at the Department of Agriculture (1898). It was love at first sight for the chemist.
Anna Campbell Kelton, a maiden around the time Wiley met her at the Department of Agriculture (1898). It was love at first sight for the chemist.

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