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MHS Resources: The Poetry of A. H. R. Buller

In 1904, Arthur Henry Reginal Buller (1874-1944) was one of the first six professors hired by the University of Manitoba. Over the course of the next 32 years, he helped to transform the University from its origins as a mere degree-granting entity for its member colleges to a full-featured, world-class academic institution. In addition to teaching classes in the field of Botany, and conducting research on fungi, Buller had numerous other interests, including the writing of poetry. At one point, he contemplated publishing a volume of his collected poetry but this never occurred. A small collection is provided here and other work is contained in his papers at the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections.

Buller on Relativity

[Buller apparently wrote this famous limerick while on summer vacation in England around 1921. It resurfaced in the Fall of 1923 when he recited it during a meeting of the Scientific Club of Winnipeg. Word spread quickly and Buller submitted it for publication to Punch, the British humor magazine. Through the years, it has been widely mis-attributed to several other people.]

There was a young lady named Bright,
Whose speed was far faster than light.
She set out one day,
In a relative way,
And returned home the previous night.

To her friends said the Bright one in chatter,
“I have learned something new about matter:
As my speed was so great,
Much increased was my weight,
Yet I failed to become any fatter.”

Pond Life

[Buller composed this ode to the microscopic life in pond water in December 1903 while he was an assistant lecturer at the University of Birmingham]

Upon the slide, with best of light
And lenses “5” or “7.”
I see a sight as wondrous as
The Milky Way in heaven.

A myriad creatures live and move
Within the little ocean;
Atlantic fishes never were
In livelier commotion.

A gauzy Stephanoceros
Now glows with silvery sheen,
And draws within its tiny mouth
Some tinier cells of green.

An emerald Volvox rolls in sight.
Ah? What co-ordination!
A thousand willing oarsmen help
To row the globy nation.

A Diatom in armour clad,
Now glides into the scene:
It seems to be in miniature
A perfect submarine.

Lo! Vorticella on a stalk,
The bell a whirlpool making.
What change o’ercomes thee, when I give
Thy little world a shaking?

Thy stalk was straight, but in a trice
A spring-like coil appears,
That slowly lengthens out once more,
When calm allays thy fears.

A Paramecium hastens by
With countless cilia beating.
Its body is transparent; I
Can see what it’s been eating!

To Spirogyra’s restful threads
My vision now is guided;
Each segment is with spiral bands
Of chlorophyll provided.

Two hurrying swarm-spores meet and touch,
Rebound and pass for ever;
Or else – they fuse and form one cell
And then – there’s parting never.

There slowly flows a plasmic mass,
An ancient form of life.
Thou art a bachelor all thy days
Nor ever needest wife.

For when descendants thou wouldn’t
(To have them is thy mission),
Some pseudopodia are cut off
By act of simple fission.

Amoeba! Learned men have said,
From thee I am descended,
And all the mysteries of life
In thy small frame are blended.

The fiery orbs of silent night,
Sunk deep in stellar space,
Astronomers can measure and
Their proper courses trace.

Their flaming gas is analyzed
By spectroscopic prism;
But still holds fast its secret, an
Amoeboid organism.

How wondrous is a mighty sun,
That lights a boundless chasm!
More wondrous still I deem a speck
Of living protoplasm.

Julius Caesar Versus Pityrosporon Melassez

[“Dr. A. H. R. Buller, of the University of Manitoba, former President of the Royal Society, told that body Thursday he had once written a bit of scientific verse based on the activity of Pityrosporon melassez, a yeast-like fungus that causes baldness.” Winnipeg Free Press, 22 May 1936]

Julius Caesar
Who conquered all Gaul
Suffered defeat
From an enemy small.
The spore of Melassez
Whose armies, well led,
Removed all the hairs
From the crown of his head.

Mary and Her Lamb

Mary had a little lamb,
She loved it much, but stop!
The cook had put it on the grill,
For ‘twas a mutton chop!

To Agnes Wicklund

[Note in Buller papers: “Written for waitress at the McLaren Hotel, Winnipeg; 14 December 1918”]

Fair Agnes Wicklund is a girl
I dearly love to see
For every morn, each noon and night,
She comes and waits on me.

She brings each plate and all I want
Without delay or question
And is so quick. Her smile’s a sauce
That stimulates digestion.

She trips along so trim and neat,
Her tray is never spilled;
O may her life with health and joy
And happiness be filled!

Her lover off to France has gone,
He fights where cannons roar;
But sweet ‘t will be when he comes home
To Agnes from the war;

For true he’s been for three long years,
Five thousand miles away,
And true her heart has beat for him
Each night and each long day.

To a Jitney

[Note in Buller papers: “A Jitney is the name given in Canada and the United States of America to a motor car conveyance running on a route, which picks up passengers anywhere on the route and carries them to any destination on the route for five cents. At Winnipeg they appeared on the streets in the spring of 1915, and were so popular that they competed successfully with the street-car service. On this account, after about a year, they were forbidden to run by the city authorities.”]

Hail to thee, Jitney!
Of thy cheapness and speed
The good folks of Winnipeg
Long have had need.

Hail to thee, Jitney!
For thou addst to my life,
I’ve more time for my business and
More for my wife.

Hail to thee, Jitney!
For each evening I see
Strap-hangers in street-cars bound
Home for their tea;

Flies by them my Jitney.
As I pay out my fare,
I thank God in Heaven for a
Seat in fresh air.

Main Street to Subway,
From the Subway to Main,
The Jitney shall take me
Again and again.

Hail to thee, Jitney!
May thy tyres ne’er wear through,
May thy spark-plug keep sparking and
Ever spark true.

Hail to thee, Jitney!
May thy patrons increase,
Thy drivers gain wealth, and thy
Hum never cease.

Au Revoir

[Written after Jitneys were banned from Winnipeg streets by the city council.]

Good-bye, dearest Jitney!
Thy loss is a blow,
And oft think I of thee
As homeward I go,

Straphanging in street-cars,
A girl in my seat,
And I with scarce room just
To stand on my feet,

The air very stuffy
With microbes filled thick,
And stop! Oh dear oh!
Thou always wert quick.

Life now goes more slowly,
Is kept to the pace
Of a street-car – thou always
Could’st beat in a race.

Good-bye then, dear Jitney,
I’ve lost what was dear –
And only in memory
Thy form will appear.

The Black Widow

[Note in Buller papers: “Written on April 29, 1936 and published in the Winnipeg Free Press, next day, April 30th, i.e. within 24 hours of composition!”]

The Black Widow spider
Held him beside her,
Then ate
Her mate.

She took his love
Like a gentle dove,
Then ate
Her mate.

There was no priest
To bless the feast.
She ate
Her mate.

And all alone
On a little stone
She ate
Her mate.

She sucked him in,
Except his skin.
She ate
Her mate.

She left him dry
Without a sigh.
She ate
Her mate.

As she finished her meal,
No remorse did she feel.
She ate
Her mate.

Thus did a wife
Take love and life.
She ate
Her mate.

Nor blame nor praise
Have I for her ways.
She ate
Her mate.

Not a tear would I borrow
From sad-eyes Sorrow
For her mate
Of late.

A Street-clock to a Bank Manager: A Request

[Note in Buller papers: “Sent anonymously to the Assistant-Manager of the [Dominion] Bank. The clock stands in Main Street, Winnipeg, just outside the Bank. As a result of this appeal, the clock was washed and painted just two days before King George VI and Queen Elizabeth arrived in Winnipeg (May 24, 1939).”]

Tic! Tok!
I’m your clock.
For my upkeep as pay
I keep time night and day,
Very proud of my rank
In your excellent bank.

Tic! Tok!
I’m your clock.
Next week I’ll be seen
By a King and a Queen
So please wipe every trace
Of dirt from my face.

Tic! Tok!
I’m your clock.

Not At Home

[Note in Buller papers: “On June 28th, 1942, I called at Miss Alice Mitchell’s cottage at Norwood, Winnipeg, intending to ask her to dinner with others at the Fort Garry Hotel. On finding her out, I at once made the first eight lines of the above poem and left them at her door. Next day the poem was completed.”]

Within this well-kept green retreat,
The Yellow Warbler song is sweet;
Its falling cadence seems to say:
“The Lovely Lady is away.”

In chorus wind-swept Poplars sigh
Because their mistress is not nigh;
And Clouds that sail the azure sea
Ask one another: “Where is she?”

Since all that empty stands her bower,
Sharp pain and loss are in this hour;
But should she come, then in a trice,
My hell would change to paradise.

The Sporobolomycetologist

[Note in Buller papers: “The first verse was written in England in the autumn of 1933. The five other verses were added at Winnipeg on September 16 and 17, 1942. Sporobolomyces (spora, a seed; bolare, to throw; myces – mucus, a fungus) means a fungus that shoots away its spores. It is unicellular and yeast-like in form, but is not related to the bread and wine yeasts. The genus Sporobolomyces and the closely allied genus Bullera (named after the author) are included in the Family Sporobolomycetes. The study of this family might be called Sporobolomycetology. In that case a specialist who devoted himself to it would be a Sporobolomycetologist. In reading the world Sporobolomycetologist aloud, bol should be made to rhyme with boll and cet with heat.”]

On little yeasts he rose to fame,
He will be sadly missed;
He was an ardent Spor-o-bol-

No golf or billiards would he play,
And maidens never kissed;
He was an ardent Spor-o-bol-

He kept no dog, he gave no ear
To Beethoven or Liszt;
He was an ardent Spor-o-bol-

“I have no days for Shakespear’s plays”
He often would insist;
He was an ardent Spor-o-bol-

Perhaps in heaven, where angels are,
His yeast-thoughts still persist;
He was an arden Spor-o-bol-

Set up a monument to him,
Say on a slab of schist;
He was an ardent Spor-o-bol-

Cock Robin

[Note in Buller papers: “Written on Dec. 4, 1942, at Winnipeg, after the Comptroller, F. W. Crawford, with the consent and approval of President Sidney Smith and Dean H. P. Armes, had sent me an order to vacate the private room that had been occupied by me for some thirty-eight years, and after I had consented to do so and had decided to seek accommodation in another institution.”]

Who killed Cock Robin?
“I”, said the Comptroller,
“With my steam roller,
I killed Cock Robin!”

Who saw him die?
“I”, said the President,
“As a University resident,
I saw him die!”

Who dug his grave?
“I”, said Dean Armes,
“Under some palms,
I dug his grave!”

All the birds of the air
Went a-sighing and a-sobbing
When they heard the bell toll
For poor Cock Robin.

See also:

Memorable Manitobans: Arthur Henry Reginald Buller (1874-1944)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Reginald Buller Monument (University of Manitoba, Winnipeg)

Reginald Buller: The Poet Scientist of Mushroom City by Gordon Goldsborough, Manitoba History, Number 47, Spring/Summer 2004


This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 3 March 2017

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