Limerick Anatomy

To celebrate National Poetry Month, we are sharing poems from our collection throughout April.

By Andrew Gordon, Systems Librarian

The cover of The Limeratomy.

The cover.

Anthony Euwer, an American poet and painter, published The Limeratomy in 1917. Subtitled A Compendium of universal knowledge for the more perfect understanding of the human machine, The Limeratomy features poems “done in the Limerick Toungue” and is illustrated by Euwer himself. Its contents comprise the more conventional components of human anatomy (the eyes, the nose, the brain, the ears) alongside more intangible or abstract qualities (the soul, the conscience) and some that are more poetic than scientific (the cockles, the funny bone).

On giving anatomy the limerick treatment, Euwer writes in the preface:

In this clinic-limerique the author has endeavored to put within the common grasp, certain livid and burning truths that have been dragged from heaped-up piles of scientific expression and kultur. It is hoped that the appearance of this little volume may prove a happy psychology at this time—an age of self-examination—an epoch when the human machine is coming into its own.

Throughout this book are not only descriptions of the anatomy, but also humorous suggestions at living healthfully. In “The Epiglottis” he writes:

Have a heart for you poor epiglottis,
Don’t crowd down your victuals, for what is
More sad than the sight
Of a wind-pipe plugged tight
When the food fails to see where the slot is.

Euwer's epiglottis illustration. Click to enlarge.

Euwer’s epiglottis illustration. Click to enlarge.

While full of humor, the pithy nature of the limerick also lends itself to concise understanding of otherwise baffling parts of the human body. In “The Medula Oblongata,” Euwer writes:

Though it sounds like a sort of sonata,
‘Tain’t confirmed by our medical data,
I’m referring of course
To that centre of force—
The medula-ah-ah-oblongata

The illustration accompanying . Click to enlarge.

The illustration accompanying “The Medula Oblongata.” Click to enlarge.

Not limited to those parts of the anatomy that exist, Euwer writes of “The Cockles”:

Now the function of cockles, we’re told
Is just to get warmed, hence I hold—
And I’m quite sure that you
Will agree with me too—
That the cockles are usu’lly cold.

The cockles. Click to enlarge.

The cockles. Click to enlarge.

There are 70 limericks in this volume. You can find them all digitized at the Internet Archive.

3 thoughts on “Limerick Anatomy

  1. I have a copy of this book. The spine is in bad shape and the leather dry. It seems to be signed twice by the author. This is the first time I have found anything about it on the internet. Excited that others know about this great piece. The illustrations are beyond words!

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