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The Ballad of Grobsteinman

April 27, 2007

On the occasion of the election of a new Director of the
Center for Science in Society--
in honor of the old one

The Ballad of Grobsteinman


The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,

The moon a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,

The road was a ribbon of moonlight, the semester was the fall.

When Grobsteinman came striding--striding—striding—

Grobsteinman came striding, up to Taylor Hall.


There was no hair atop his head, sideburns down to his chin,

His jeans were of shabby fabric, his shoes from an old used bin.

He lit his pipe, he smoked awhile; he puffed and thought some more.

He had a smile and a twinkle; his eyes they were a-twinkle,

His wrinkled face a-twinkle, as he prepared for war.


Across the green he strode apace, up through the College yard,

He tapped with his pipe on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;

He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there

But Nancy, college president; Nancy, our brand-new president,

Planning three new centers -- but! ‘twas no science there!


Dark in the dark old college, the computers creaked

As other faculty listened; their faces white and peaked;

Their heads were full of questions, they didn’t know what to say,

They loved the dark old College, fusty Bryn Mawr College.

Quietly they listened, and they heard old Grobstein say—



"One more Center, Nance, I'm after that prize to-night,

And I shall be back with a brand new plan, before the morning light;

Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,

Then look for me by moonlight, watch for me by moonlight,

 I'll come back by moonlight, though hell should bar the way."


He returned to his office, in the basement of Science-land,

He turned on his computer; the prose burnt like a brand.

A black cascade of language came tumbling out o’ his chest;

He wrote a planning document—envisioning a document.

He cranked out prose ‘til midnight; he did not stop to rest.


Click-clack, click-clack. Did they hear it? It was a certain type.

Click-clack, click-clack, in the distance. He wrote and gnawed his pipe.

Down in the bowels of Park, o’er the brow of the hill,

Grobsteinman was thinking, thinking, thinking,

Grobstein looked at his screen--and sat up, straight and still.


Click-clack in the frosty silence! Click-clack in the echoing night!

Nearer he came and nearer! His face was like a light!

His eyes grew wide for a moment; he drew one last deep breath,

His screen flickered in the moonlight,

His printer shattered the moonlight,

Shattered the past in the moonlight, and warned of coming breadth.



He came not back in the dawning; he came not back at noon;

But out o' the tawny sunset, before the rise o' the moon,

When the road was a gypsy's ribbon, then returned old Paul

With twenty-six brave others, marching—marching—marching—

Twenty-seven altogether, into Thomas Hall.


They stormed the faculty meeting. And this is what they said:

“We need a new SciSoc Center.” And this is what they read:

“The gap is large, the gulf is wide. We have to try what we’ve not tried.”

There was dark at every window; but light at one dark window;

It could be seen, through the casement: a new idea, deep and wide.



From department to department, this new message went:

From division to division, the vision it was sent:

Story telling and revising, ‘twas Grobsteinman’s devising.

“Interact, talk right back. Do not lack

Reciprocal inquiry. Novel thoughts arising.”



 “Integrate. Let’s not wait. Intellect exchange.

Flexibility. Diversity. Look at this large range.”

They stretched and strained in the darkness; hours crawled by like years,

Till, now, on the stroke of midnight, cold, on the stroke of midnight,

The nod came in their direction! The Center at last was theirs!



A brand new Science Center: one with a social focus.

It prompted change. Had a range. From locus unto locus.

Working groups. Got out of coops. Across a wide terrain.

Innovation. Education. Broached a new approach.

Emergence. Language. Mental Health. Behavior and the brain.



Discipline to discipline: no longer drove a wedge.

Gown to town, we slowly learned, how to cross the hedge.

Science. Society. Elementary education.

Brown bag lunches, to try out hunches: bunches—bunches—bunches.

Beauty and time symposiums. Equation and elation.



And now of a lovely noon, they say, when the wind is in the trees,

When the sun is a sprightly galleon tossed upon shiny seas,

When the road is a ribbon of sunlight, the semester in the spring.

Grobsteinman comes striding—striding—striding—

Grobsteinman comes striding, up to the Ely Wing.



Across the green he walks and puffs, through the College yard,

He taps with his pipe on the shutters: now nothing’s locked and barred;

He whistles a tune to the window, and who is waiting there

But a brand-new Steering Committee, a winsome fine Committee

Planning the next new era: a strong Center will be there!


Thanks, Paul, for past and future.




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