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Prussian Couple

A poem by Joan Michelson


After his success with mustard gas at Ypres,
Fritz Haber’s wife killed herself.

To be precise, she took his service pistol
and shot herself through the mouth.

Her husband had betrayed the ideals of science.
‘It makes no difference.’ he insisted, ‘It for

the fatherland.’ She was the first woman
in Germany to take a doctorate in chemistry,

her husband’s field. They had taken the same vow
to work for moral good. Now he was the director

director of the foremost scientific institute.
later to be named for him, she, his helper,

and a wife and mother. Against her accusation,
he publicly accused her of treason.


Three years after Ypres and her death,
he won the Nobel Prize. On a different scale,

as Hitler’s party edged into power
with twelve MPs, Haber turned sixty,

and a linden tree was planted in his honour.
Five years later, his Bavarian Jewish roots

were uncovered, the sapling was dug up,
and Haber’s life was over.

The feminists of the 1960s resurrected
Clara Immerwahr as a model of civic courage.

It was dawn when she stole into the garden,
the sky the mixed colours of her roses.

Joan Michelson’s prize-winning collection Landing Stage is available from Sentinel Books, SPM Publishers, London. joanmichelsonpoet.com

Topics: Culture