Hilaire Belloc

Superstring Theory
The Theory Of Everything
Has lots of little bits of string,
Some flapping loose, while some are tied
Or taut. Though this may seem cock-eyed,
Physicists of the utmost fame
Will say, I guarantee, the same.

Now think – whatever could impart
The force to stop strings flying apart?
Another string – this is so clever – 
Is used to knot each pair together!
(Less clever, though, the knot used, which is
The old “round turn and two half-hitches”.)

From here, I hardly need remark,
It’s child’s play to knit a quark.
And boffins by the score write articles
With patterns for their favourite particles.
(As would be clear to any girl,
For anti-matter you just purl.)

Each knitted particle’s akin
To some note on a violin.
A proton, say, ’s effectively
A thick string tuned to middle C,
While as for an electron, that
Is similar, but in A flat.

Now take some particles and plait ’em;
In no time you’ll have made an atom –
And those of a creative bent
Can fashion any element!
Without further instructions, you’ll
Soon have knocked up a molecule.

Enough strings, artfully crocheted, ’ll
Produce a cosmos-sized cat’s cradle.
Such theories do scientists tend
To dream up when at a loose end.
This one at least does have this strength:
It can be cut to any length.

Another selling point of course is
The way strings form both stuff and forces.
Each force – say, electricity –
Is explained, with simplicity
And elegance that’s quite fantastic,
In terms of our strings being elastic.

O, is it not a wondrous thing,
The power of a piece of string?
But catastrophic the mishap
When universal mainstrings snap -
As theory, at some time, requires.
’Tis then this wretched world expires.

Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) wrote a little of everything. Among his Cautionary Tales is one that begins "The chief defect of Henry King/Was chewing little bits of string", which I found provocative. He wrote the delightful A Bad Child's Book of Beasts, with its equally fine sequel More Beasts for Worse Children. He also wrote novels, travel books, biography, and, according to the Oxford Companion, "books of essays on Nothing, Something, Everything, etc". 

The above account of modern physics is not entirely without educational value, but those intending to study the matter seriously are advised to begin their research elsewhere.

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© Bob Newman 2006. All rights reserved.

This page last updated 01/09/2007