Roald Hoffmann

Banquet speech

Roald Hoffmann’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1981

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Fellow Laureates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Students of Stockholm, Students of all Sweden! I salute you for all that you represent:

For your youth, your beauty and your strength – symbolic of mankind’s constant renewal!

For your devotion to knowledge, your search for truth – typifying that most beautiful attribute of man- his mind!

For your country, its banners and its songs. A country dear to me through my wife and her family, through the Swedish people’s love for their land, their sea, and peace in the world!

For these things I, a child of war-torn Europe, of Jewish heritage and the American dream, salute you!

Students, the laureates share your sincere wish for our common goal as students of science, of literature, for peace in this world. Let it be in my time. Let it be in your time. Our energies and our hearts are devoted to it.

I do wish to add some words on the connections and differences among our respective fields. Each branch of scholarship honored by the Nobel Prize – physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, economics – gives birth to its own complexity, its own criteria of elegance, of understanding.

Chemistry, my own science, reduced to its simplest terms, is not physics. Medicine is not chemistry. And literature is certainly not economics. Or at least if so reduced each individual discipline loses much of its aesthetic, life-enhancing quality. Even if we could understand the sequence of firing of neurons in Pär Lagerkvist‘s mind when he wrote “Vem gick förbi min barndoms fönster och andades på det…” (“who walked past the window of my childhood and breathed on it…”); while beautiful in itself, knowledge of the specific physiological and eventually molecular sequence of events does not help us understand what this great Swedish poet has to say to us.

Students of Stockholm, each branch of learning we represent is unique and worthwhile in its own right. For the future of humanity I ask you to give each your strength and your love.

And to end I quote a poem about Van Gogh by Charles Tomlinson*:

“Farewell, and for your instructive frenzy
Gratitude. The world does not end tonight
And the fruit that we shall pick tomorrow
Await us, weighing the unstripped bough.”

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1981, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1982

*”Farewell to Van Gogh”, from Seeing is Believing (1958, 1960) in Collected Poems, Oxford University Press, 1985

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1981

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