Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Mr. Attila"

Source: Haynes: From alchemy to artificial intelligence
Public Understand. Sci. 12 (2003) 243-253

Albert Einstein so successfully cast himself in the role of benign, absent-minded genius that his involvement at a theoretical level in the development of nuclear weapons was glossed over, overshadowed by the one formula that everyone remembers. But the poet Carl Sandburg was not deceived. In his black poem dated, significantly, August 1945 he presented a seemingly harmless, absent-minded atomic physicist, Mr. Attila.
They made a myth of you, professor,
you of the gentle voice,
the books, the specs,
the furitive rabbit manners
in the mortar-board cap
and the medieval gown.

They didn’t think it, eh professor?
On account of you’re so absent-minded,
you bumping into the tree and saying,
“Excuse me, I thought you were a tree,”
passing on again black and absent-minded.

Now it’s “Mr. Attila, how do you do?”
Do you pack wallops of wholesale death?
Are you the practical dynamic son-of-a-gun?
Have you come through with a few abstractions?
Is it you Mr. Attila we hear saying,
“I beg your pardon but we believe we have made
some degree of progress on the residual
qualities of the atom”?
Carl Sandburg
[August, 1945]

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