Wednesday, December 22, 2021



I have posted Augustus De Morgan’s poem about fleas previously, indeed it was first posted by me in January 2010, the year and month I began Bytes.

It’s a good poem but more importantly offers an interesting and pretty accurate observation on the social condition.

So here is the poem and the background to it.

"Siphonaptera", the name of the poem by Augustus De Morgan, refers to the biological order to which fleas belong.

The poem:
Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on;
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.
The rhyme appears in De Morgan's A Budget of Paradoxes (1872) along with a discussion of the possibility that all particles may be made up of clusters of smaller particles, 'and so down, for ever'; and similarly that planets and stars may be particles of some larger universe, 'and so up, for ever'.

The lines derive from part of Jonathan Swift's long satirical poem "On Poetry: A Rapsody" of 1733:
The Vermin only teaze and pinch
Their Foes superior by an Inch.
So, Nat'ralists observe, a Flea
Hath smaller Fleas that on him prey,
And these have smaller yet to bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum:
Thus ev'ry Poet, in his Kind
Is bit by him that comes behind. 

Lewis F. Richardson adapted the poem to meteorology in 1922:
Big whirls have little whirls
That feed on their velocity,
And little whirls have lesser whirls
And so on to viscosity ...


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