Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes

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"Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes", also known simply as "Fleas", is a couplet commonly cited as the shortest poem ever written, composed by American poet Strickland Gillilan in the early 20th century.[1]

The poem reads in full:

Had 'em.

Shorter poem[edit]

"Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes" is frequently said to be the shortest poem in the English language,[1] or the shortest in the world.[2] However, many shorter poems have since been written.

A notable example was composed by boxer Muhammad Ali. On June 4, 1975, after giving a speech at Harvard University, Ali was discussing poetry on stage with journalist George Plimpton. When asked for the shortest poem of all time, Plimpton recited "Fleas" as above, and Ali responded, "I've got one: Me? Whee!!"[3][4][5]

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the world's shortest poem is a one-letter poem by Aram Saroyan comprising a four-legged version of the letter "m".[6]


  1. ^ a b Shapiro, Fred R. (2006). Yale Book of Quotations. Yale University Press. p. 310. ISBN 978-0-300-10798-2. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  2. ^ Shackle, Eric. "The World's Shortest Poem". Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  3. ^ McDonell, Terry. "Muhammad Ali, Hunter S. Thompson, and George Plimpton: On the Literary Legacy of "The Champ"". The Hive. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  4. ^ Doherty, Richard J. (9 June 1975). "Professor Muhammed Ali Delivers Lecture; Poems and Parables Fill Talk on Friendship". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 30 November 2011.
  5. ^ Schulian, John (2011) [1998]. "Ali! Ali! Ali!". Sometimes They Even Shook Your Hand: Portraits of Champions Who Walked Among Us. University of Nebraska Press. p. 305. ISBN 978-0803237766. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  6. ^ Kanwar Dinesh Singh, New Explorations In Indian English Poetry, Sarup & Sons, 2004, pp.92-4