Library Random Adventure No.2:
In fact, before I even regale you with this tale (for I have temporarily forgotten it) I will regale you with a tangent. A pretangent.
The pretangent in question is about how when I was quite young, probably ten or so, my mother brought home from the library a rather large and thick book of limericks for me to read, as, like all of us, I was interested in them momentarily. I had read through a few such books previously, but never on the scale of this veritable tome.
It became readily apparent, flicking through, but clearly having escaped my mother’s notice, that although the cover of the book was quite generic, A.K.A Giant Book of Limericks, or some such innocent title, the authors/compliers of the work were clearly under the impression that a limerick was any poem in the form of a limerick that dealt exclusively with sex.
At first I was confused. Was it just coincidence that the random poem I first opened up to was about a swan and a university student? Maybe it was just a dedicated chapter. No. Every poem, thousands of them. First to last. Though they didn’t always involve swans. Actually that one was my favourite, reproduced (pardon the pun) below:
Two Semantic Limericks by Gavin Ewart (1977)
1. According to The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1933)
There existed an adult male person who had lived a relatively short time, belonging or pertaining to St. John’s*, who desired to commit sodomy with the large web-footed swimming-birds of the genus Cygnus or subfamily Cygninae of the family Anatidae, characterized by a long and gracefully curved neck and a majestic motion when swimming.
So he moved into the presence of the person employed to carry burdens, who declared: “Hold or possess as something at your disposal my female child! The large web-footed swimming birds of the genus Cygnus or subfamily Cygninae of the family Anatidae, characterized by a long and gracefully curved neck and a majestic motion when swimming, are set apart, specially retained for the Head, Fellows and Tutors of the College.”
2. According to Dr Johnson’s Dictionary (Edition of 1765)
There exifted a person, not a woman or a boy, being in the firft part of life, not old, of St John’s* who wifhed to – the large water-fowl, that have along and very straight neck, and are very white, excepting when they are young (their legs and feet being black, as are their bills, which are like that of a goofe, but fomething rounder, and a little hooked at the lower ends, the two fides below their eyes being black and fhining like ebony).
In consequence of this he moved step by step to the one that had charge of the gate, who pronounced: “Poffefs and enjoy my female offspring! The large water-fowl, that have a long and very straight neck, and are very white, excepting when they are young (their legs and feet being black, as are their bills, which are like that of a goofe, but fometimes rounder, and a little hooked at the lower ends, the two fides below their eyes being black and fhining like ebony) are kept in ftore, laid up for a future time, for the fake of the gentlemen with Spanish titles.”
*A college of Cambridge University
So there you have it – an epic volume of dirty limericks.
Then I wondered: Was my mother trying to tell me something? Was this her way of educating me in these matters? But the innocent title and the cheerful red cover with little cartoonish figures merrily dancing around the border (it wasn’t exactly dancing on closer inspection) made it quite implausible that this was the case.
[EDITORS NOTE: I have remembered what the original story was]
Turns out though, boys and girls, that the novelty of such a book soon wore off. I never made it to the end. And along the way I discovered innumerable slang terms for sexual intercourse, relevant organs and all things associated. In fact, I suspected strongly that many of them actually weren’t used widely (or at all) in society except for their brief, one-off usage in their respective limericks, made to fit the strict rhyming structure, and combined with obscure and unconvincing sexual connotations, seemed composed entirely by an elite squad of English schoolboys. Perhaps these scholars then went on to create urbandictionary.com?
In any case, nothing less than paraphrasing Blackadder could describe the systematic exploration of these poems on the topic of ‘doing anything to anything, animal, vegetable, mineral.’
Library Random Adventure No.2, Cont’:
And this brings us back to Doh. As stated earlier the original library tale, involving borrowing books out at random led me one fine day to a mutli-volume treatise on the history of music philosophy. A series of white books, they smelled interesting enough. I learnt two things from it. The volume I borrowed was about Ancient Greece.
The Ancient Greek Philosophers believed different modes, or rather music in different modes, Aeolian, Phrygian etc, had different powerful psychological effects on humans. One philosopher even went so far as to boast he once broke up a riot by playing music in the Lydian mode on his lyre, soothing the angry young men involved.
Lesbos is a Greek Island, home to some 90 000 Lesbians.