Celebrate National Poetry Month With Medical Rhymes

This year, we bring you Medical Rhymes: A Collection of Rhymes of ye Ancients Time, and Rhymes of the Modern Day; Rhymes Grave and Rhymes Mirthful; Rhymes Anatomical, Therapeutical, and Surgical; all Sorts of Rhymes to Interest, Amuse and Edify and Sorts of Followers of EsculapiusThis impressive-sounding collection was assembled by Hugo Erichsen (1860-1944) and published in 1884 by J.H. Chamber & Co.

Erichsen assembled the poems found in Medical Rhymes from a variety of sources. While many of the authors appeared only as “Anonymous,” others were well-established medical figures such as Oliver Wendell Holmes (one-time Dean of Harvard Medical School) and Silas Weir Mitchell (one of the foremost 19th century neurologists). Some of the poems were not written by doctors at all – Tennyson and William Thackeray both make appearances. Erichsen hoped that “the profession will read this book with pleasure…the purpose of my book is to amuse the busy doctor in leisure hours. Some of the serious poems will no doubt furnish food for reflection.”

The variety of the poems lives up to the book’s highly descriptive subtitle. Some of the titles include “The Ballad of Bacillus,” which was dedicated to the pathologist Rudolf Virchow; “Song of the Tape-Worm,” told from the point of view of the titular parasite; and “The Origin of Vaccination,” which attempts to put a charming spin on Edward Jenner’s realization that exposure to cowpox could provide immunity to smallpox. Literary tastes are always in flux, and chances are that none of the poems in Medical Rhymes can be considered exemplary examples of the poetic form, but hopefully they can still bring a smile to our faces.