Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Nonsense poetry

Avi Ohry
Tel Aviv, Israel

Recently, I read the Israeli professor Rony Reich’s translation of German nonsense poetry (Deutsche Unsinnpoesie), and among them, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Lügenmärchen (Lying Fairy Tales). I translate from the Hebrew:

 …Three wished to catch a hare,
On crutches they came—a team.
One was deaf,
The second blind, the third mute.
And the fourth could not move.

I’ll sing how it happened;
The blind saw the rabbit,
Somewhere in the plowed field.
And the mute called the lame
And he caught him at once…

It reminded me of the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, particularly the second witch1:

First Witch. When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Second Witch. When the hurly-burly’s done, When the battle’s lost and won.

But in the Brothers Grimm story “The Children of Hameln” (or Hamelin), also known as “The Pied Piper” and written by Jacob (1785–1863) and Wilhelm (1786–1859), three children survived per their disabilities2:

In the year 1284, a strange rat-catcher appeared in Hameln. He promised to free the town of a plague of rats and mice for a fixed sum of money. With his pipe he began to play, and all the animals followed him; “he went out of the town straight into the River Weser where the vermin plunged after him and drowned.”3 Yet the town did not pay their debt.

The angry piper returned, and this time, all the children followed his pipe music and drowned. Three children could not follow the line and therefore survived: the blind, the deaf, and the lame.

A story of the advantage of disability!


  1. “Three Witches.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Witches
  2. Brothers Grimm. “The Children of Hameln.” German Legends, No. 245.
  3. Town of Hameln. “The Pied Piper from Brothers Grimm: The world renowned version.” https://www.hameln.de/en/thepiedpiper/thepiedpiper/brothers-grimm-pied-piper

AVI OHRY, MD, is married with two daughters. He is Emeritus Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at Tel Aviv University, the former director of Rehabilitation Medicine at Reuth Medical and Rehabilitation Center in Tel Aviv, and a member of The Lancet‘s Commission on Medicine & the Holocaust. He conducts award-winning research in neurological rehabilitation, bioethics, medical humanities and history, and on long-term effects of disability and captivity. He plays the drums with three jazz bands.

Spring 2024



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