The world’s shortest poem and why it may be important

For many years I have known that the world’s shortest poem was written by Ogden Nash. It was called Lines On the Antiquity of Microbes, and all it said was:



For many years I was wrong. Not about the poem. But about the author. Recently I discovered that there was some debate as to the true author, and that there was a strong body of evidence connecting the poem to Strickland Gillilan, rather than Nash; between them they had seen off the third challenger, Shel Silverstein (who gave us the wonderful Sylvia’s Mother).

This post is not about any of them, or even about the poem per se. Instead, it’s about the subject of the poem.


We’re still learning about microbes. We have reason to believe that we may have been just a teensy bit too eager to rid ourselves of microbes in the past; we used to think of them as bad guys, but more and more, we’re coming to recognise them as a bunch of good guys in the midst of a bunch of guys we don’t really know much about.

Through Marc Benioff I met David Agus, and since then I’ve heard him speak at a number of places, starting with a conference. [If you haven’t been to one, you need to. They’re amazing. I went to them before I joined the company, I will go to them long after I’ve left the company (if I ever do). They’re that good.]

David’s talk opened my eyes as to what was happening in the human microbiome, and how we could start imagining wellness rather than illness. His book, The End of Illness, is well worth a read.

In the serendipity that punctuates our lives, I then met with Larry Smarr while speaking at a Deloittes customer conference some time soon after. And the more I learnt about his ‘computer-aided study” of his own body, the more I was driven to investigate what David had opened my eyes to.

We have only just begun to understand our microbiomes. We have only just begun to understand that we have many good microbes, and that the microbes we don’t know much about may also be good for us.

A few days ago, I came across an intriguing idea, one that delighted me. It’s a long long way from being proven. But it is outrageous enough to be worth thinking about.

The idea is this:

Perhaps the human appendix does have a function after all. It may just turn out to be a “boot disk”

A boot disk for the human microbiome, preserving a perfect copy of the collection of microbes we should have started life with. The proposal was put forward by students at Duke some five or six years ago, and continues to pop up every now and then.

Now that’s an idea worthy of Ogden Nash. If he was alive today, I’m sure he would have penned a quick poem about the appendix. And mangled some poor word or other to rhyme with it. Riotously.



5 thoughts on “The world’s shortest poem and why it may be important”

  1. Actually, Ian Scott-Parker’s “A Short Poem” is much shorter than the one quoted here. But good luck finding too much meaning in it! :)

  2. I have a friend, Rummel Pinera, who is an online activist and free-lance writer. I believe he may have written the shortest poem in the world.

    The poem ‘Fleas, which was once credited as the shortest poem in the English language,’ has about 5 syllables and its original title is quite long- “The Antiquity Of Microbes”. Such poem has this to say:

    Had ‘em.

    The said poem was talking about how long ‘microbes’ have been around on Earth. Its original title – “The Antiquity Of Microbes” is quite long to be considered as the shortest poem in the world. My friend who is an activist and a writer has a poem that consists of 3 syllables, 3 words and 8 letters. His poem is “Go”. It is the shortest poem in the world! Besides, even if you make “Fleas” as the title of the poem about Adam having microbes, Mr. Pinera’s poem “Go” would still be shorter when it comes to the total number of syllables, letters and words. Look at Rummel Pinera’s poem titled “Go”:



    The poem “Go” can be interpreted in many ways. It may mean a romantic couple breaking up and bidding farewell to each other. It could mean a mother who is about to work abroad bidding farewell to a child. It may also mean a friend who is going to depart from a town to study in a city saying good bye to his best friend. I think “Go” is certainly the shortest poem in the world right now.

Let me know what you think