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Ode to the Poets

36502, 91.26.293, 32211.10 and 1932.2.1
Gifts of Mrs. Frank Hodge, Roy and Bentley Dillard and Bowers Museum Collection

Author’s Note

May 12 was National Limerick Day. It is a holiday which celebrates the birth of the limerick’s creator and titan of absurdity: Edward Lear. His banner creation is a short, often but not necessarily bawdy poem in anapestic trimeter—two unstressed syllables are followed by a stressed syllable—with a rhyme scheme of AABBA. Though not always observed, the A’s should have about 9 syllables per line and the B’s should have about 6. What follows is a typical Bowers celebration of a holiday through objects, in this case poems featured in historical artworks and letters. It varies from its typical format only by relying on limericks rather than the usual paragraph structure.



It was just the day of Limerick,

A good chance for a Learean schtick.

Without missing a wink,

This scribe started to think,

Why say lots when few words do the trick?

"Penny Squares" pattern, c. 1910
Maker Unknown; United States
Cotton; 44 1/2 x 63 in.
Gift of Mrs. Frank Hodge


Our storage has many a quilt,

Each of them most carefully built.

This south rightmost panel,

Features not a mammal,

But a plea to save mother a jilt.


Note: This much beloved quilt features many charming animals, but its lower right panel is perhaps the most thoughtful: “This quilt is for a little boy, Who in his room such order keeps, He minds mama whate’re she says, And quiet is while Sister sleeps.” Depending on the context it is either a commendation of a child’s behavior or more likely, outlining how her young son should behave.

Scenes of California, 1932
Martin Syversten (Norwegian-born American, 1874-1947) and Karl Schabell (American, b?-d?); Santa Ana, California
Mural painting on ceiling
Bowers Museum Collection


Hark the ceiling of gallery Flour,

It tells of newcomers of yore.

The short rhyme barely seen,

Larger would it have been,

Had the township paid just a bit more.


Note: Made during the Great Depression, many features of the historic wing were made with economic considerations. Though the font size on the Fluor Gallery mural was in no way affected by a lack of funding, the head muralist’s assistant, Karl Schabell, later claimed that he and Martin Syvertsen were only ever paid a fraction of what they were originally offered by the city of Santa Ana.

Letter to Madame Modjeska, late 19th Century
Dorothy F. Wiethoff; Detroit, Michigan
Ink on paper
Bowers Museum Collection


Helena was of the betters,

In roles bashful or playing go-getters.

When her fans would write,

She would welcome the sight,

Unless they were creeps in their letters.


Note: There is no evidence that the famous Polish thespian, Madame Helena Modjeska was anything but honored by the fan mail and voluminous amounts of gifts that were tossed to her one stage. For example, three rings were tossed to her on stage after a particularly impressive performance and she kept them until the day she died. The above fan mail with several poems about her being the greatest actress alive also remained with her until her passing as one of several in the Bowers Museum’s collection.

Saddlebag (Alforja), 1900-1930
Maker Unknown; Monsefu, Lambayeque, Peru
Dyed cotton; 19 x 45 in.
Gift of Roy and Bentley Dillard


This bag is embroidered with flowers.

Must have taken them many long hours.

The seamstress has gone,

But their poem lives on,

And their roses now bloom at the Bowers.


Note: Alforjas or saddlebags were used by Mochica speaking cultures of Peru long before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. This 20th Century bag has rhyming verses in Spanish on opposite sides of the bag which translate to, “Long live my roses, Long live my jasmine, Long live the flowers of my garden.”

Text and images may be under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. References are available on request. Information subject to change upon further research.

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