V. B. Nimble, V. B. Quick
V. B. Wigglesworth wakes at noon,
Washes, shaves and very soon
Is at the lab; he reads his mail,
Swings a tadpole by the tail,
Undoes his coat, removes his hat,
Dips a spider in a vat
Of alkaline, phones the press,
Tells them he is F.R.S.,
Subdivides six protocells,
Kills a rat by ringing bells,
Writes a treatise, edits two
Symposia on “Will man do?”,
Gives a lecture, audits three,
Has the sperm club in for tea,
Pensions off an ageing spore,
Cracks a test tube, takes some pure
Science and applies it, finds
His hat, adjusts it, pulls the blinds,
Instructs the jellyfish to spawn,
And, by one o’clock, is gone.
– John Updike
John Updike is better known as a novelist, but he also wrote a lot of poetry.
V. B. Wigglesworth FRS was an entomologist at University of Cambridge, where he held the post of Quick Professor of Biology from 1952 to 1966. He specialized in insect metamorphosis so it seems unlikely that Updike knew anything about him except the title of his chair, but that was enough to inspire a great piece of light verse.
I have no idea what the real Wigglesworth was like, but the Wigglesworth of the poem is far too close to some academics that I’ve known, with his detached flipping between many projects, his self-promotion and his unreliable time-keeping. All of these characteristics are of course playing on the joke of Wigglesworth’s title, and the ‘quickness’ of the poem is enhanced by the fact that it consists of a single sentence that, helped by the occasional enjambment, pulls you on to the end.
The poem was published in The New Yorker in 1955.