Much ado about nothing

Vacuums have intrigued people for ages; they’ve philosophised about them and done experiments with them. A perfect vacuum – an absence of all matter – is said to be impossible, but that doesn’t stop people finding uses for imperfect ones. A vacuum of my acquaintance explains.

Nature (bless her cotton socks) is said to quite abhor me,
But astronauts in outer space are dead if they ignore me!
Keen picnickers with Thermos flasks unknowingly adore me;
And shoppers buy me sealed in packs, and take me home and store me.

Torricelli with his mercury, Pascal (who wrote a book*),
Von Guericke, and Boyle (and not forgetting Robert Hooke),
All searched for me with tubes and pumps, by which these icons took
As much air as they could from every cranny, every nook.

In the hemispheres of Magdeburg, I held back teams of horses;
And gravity works through me, keeping planets in their courses.
I’m hard to make and hard to break without substantial forces.
You’ll never make me perfect, though, whatever your resources.

Science and religion both agree I don’t exist;
And I’ve driven many physicists completely round the twist.
I’m inside all your light bulbs, and your Hoovers I assist;
Yet I’m hard to get to grips with, for of nothing I consist. . .

So it’s better if I just remain a cerebral construction:
Just think of me as ‘nothing’ and, by way of introduction,
Remember me whenever your new Dyson wields its suction.
But make sure you never meet me – oh, imagine the destruction!

* Experiences nouvelles touchant le vide (New Experiments with the Vacuum), 1647

[Image from Kenyon College website]
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