Earthworm Sonnets

Here’s another earthworm poem for you—a sonnet, no less. This one came from David Howell, who wrote an academic paper about earthworms called “The Worm Turns: An Investigation of Experimentation on the Learning Abilities of Earthworms” in the early 1970’s.

Oligochaete! Thou taxonomic pain!
My mouth and mind and memory affirm,
‘Twould be much less a stress upon the brain
To designate you merely as a worm.
But then again, perhaps it is untrue
To brand you as too simple for your name.
For possibly, the tests we put you through
Just don’t quite fit your undulating frame.
Psychologists are on the highest ground
When studying the ways of mice and men,
But with invertebrates they’re often found
Quite ignorant of how they should begin.
The object of my study is to try
To help both man and worm see eye to eye.

Dr. Howell’s days as an earthworm researcher began and ended with the publication of this paper, which was really just a term paper for a college biological psychology class. He is now a kidney and transplant pathologist at Duke University. He hasn’t had much contact with earthworms since then and was more than a little startled to learn that I’d uncovered his poem some thirty years after its publication. He told me that he thinks of earthworms only in passing now, when an unmistakably earthworm-shaped specimen is sent to him for diagnosis. “Some of the larger, more generous renal needle biopsies are occasionally referred to colloquially as ‘nightcrawlers’ by the clinicians,” he told me, “but they are generally relatively sedentary by the time they reach my microscope stage.”