The lion tamers wrestle with the lions in a cage,
With but a fragile whip they dare their charges’ feral rage.
They put their heads in tigers’ mouths and do not flinch a grain,
But … they never tried to take a cat five hundred miles to Maine.
You hunters who bring back alive from Afric’s roaring shore
The nilghai and the elephant, the rhino and the boar;
Who load them on a steamer and evince no sign of strain –
Let’s see you drive a cat five hundred miles to Maine.
Go cope with your rhinoceros bare-handed and alone,
Or kick a famished grizzly if for harmless fun you hone,
Or aggravate a timber wolf with pokings of a cane,
But do NOT try to drive a cat five hundred mile to Maine.
There is no word, there is no tongue, there is no ink to tell
One tenth of what one cat can raise of concentrated hell,
When after two hours’ driving to mistaken qualms you yield
And take poor puss to stretch her limbs in some adjacent field.
And if you’ve done the things set forth in stanzas two and three,
You stand a chance, when Krazy from the leash has wriggled free
(Provided you are clad in steel with hat and gloves to match),
To get her back into the car without a bite or scratch.
Ye lion tamers, naturalists, and big-game hunters eke,
When I’m around be chary of your tendency to speak.
To hear you boast your petty deeds gives me a shooting pain
For I have driven Krazy — phew! — five hundred miles to Maine!
– Baron Ireland
Grandpapa fell down a drain;
Couldn’t scramble out again.
Now he’s floating down the sewer
There’s one grandpapa the fewer.
– Harry Graham
If there were, O! an Hellespont of cream
Between us, milk-white Mistress, I would swim
To you, to show to both my love’s extreme,
Leander-like, — yea, dive from brim to brim.
But met I with a butter’d pippin-pie
Floating upon’t, that would I make my boat,
To waft me to you without jeopardy:
Though sea-sick I might be while it did float.
Yet if a storm should rise, by night or day,
Of sugar snows or hail of care-aways,
Then if I found a pancake in my way,
It like a plank should bear me to your quays,
Which having found, if they tobacco kept,
The smoke should dry me well before I slept.
– John Davies of Hereford, 1598
He never completed his History of Ephesus,
But his name got mentioned in numerous prefaces.
– W. Craddle
When a man’s busy, why, leisure
Strikes him as wonderful pleasure:
‘Faith, and at leisure once is he?
Straightway he wants to be busy.
– Robert Browning
“What is funny?” you ask, my child,
Crinkling your bright-blue eye.
“Ah, that is a curious question indeed,”
Musing, I make reply.
“Contusions are funny, not open wounds,
And automobiles that go
Crash into trees by the highwayside;
Industrial incidents, no.
“The habit of drink is a hundred per cent,
But drug addiction is nil.
A nervous breakdown will get no laughs;
Insanity surely will.
“Humor, aloof from the cigarette,
Inhabits the droll cigar;
The middle-aged are not very funny;
The young and the old, they are.
“So the funniest thing in the world should be
A grandsire, drunk, insane,
Maimed in a motor accident,
And enduring moderate pain.
“But why do you scream and yell, my child?
Here comes your mother, my honey,
To comfort you and to lecture me
For trying, she’ll say, to be funny.”
– Morris Bishop
Augustus was a chubby lad;
Fat ruddy checks Augustus had;
And every body saw with joy
The plump and hearty healthy boy.
He ate and drank as he was told,
And never let his soup get cold.
But one day, one cold winter’s day,
He scream’d out — “Take the soup away!
O take the nasty soup away!
I won’t have any soup to-day!”
Next day, now look, the picture shows
How lank and lean Augustus grows!
Yet, though he feels so weak and ill,
The naughty fellow cries out still –
“Not any soup for me, I say:
O take the nasty soup away!
I won’t have any soup to-day.”
The third day comes; Oh what a sin!
To make himself so pale and thin.
Yet, when the soup is put on table,
He screams, as loud as he is able, –
“Not any soup for me, I say:
O take the nasty soup away!
I won’t have any soup to-day.”
Look at him, now the fourth day’s come!
He scarcely weighs a sugar-plum;
He’s like a little bit of thread,
And on the fifth day, he was — dead!
– Heinrich Hoffmann, The Struwwelpeter Painting Book, 1900
When I loved you
And you loved me,
You were the sea,
The sky, the tree.
Now skies are skies,
And seas are seas,
And trees are brown
And they are trees.
– Charles A. Wagner
Ping to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pong with mine;
We twain may win the Challenge cup,
If ping with pong combine:
The craze, that in my soul doth rise,
Is doubtless keen in thine;
I’ll take the rôle of pinger up,
If thou’lt be pongstress mine.
– A Little Book of Ping-Pong Verse, 1902
Victor Hugo’s 1829 poem Djinns is a syllabic snowball — its lines grow progressively longer, then shorter, to reflect the passing of a storm of demons:
Dans la plaine
Naît un bruit.
De la nuit.
Comme une âme
La voix plus haute
Semble un grelot.
D’un nain qui saute
C’est le galop.
Il fuit, s’élance,
Puis en cadence
Sur un pied danse
Au bout d’un flot.
La rumeur approche.
L’écho la redit.
C’est comme la cloche
D’un couvent maudit;
Comme un bruit de foule,
Qui tonne et qui roule,
Et tantôt s’écroule,
Et tantôt grandit,
Dieu! la voix sépulcrale
Des Djinns! … Quel bruit ils font!
Fuyons sous la spirale
De l’escalier profond.
Déjà s’éteint ma lampe,
Et l’ombre de la rampe,
Qui le long du mur rampe,
Monte jusqu’au plafond.
C’est l’essaim des Djinns qui passe,
Et tourbillonne en sifflant!
Les ifs, que leur vol fracasse,
Craquent comme un pin brûlant.
Leur troupeau, lourd et rapide,
Volant dans l’espace vide,
Semble un nuage livide
Qui porte un éclair au flanc.
Ils sont tout près! – Tenons fermée
Cette salle, où nous les narguons.
Quel bruit dehors! Hideuse armée
De vampires et de dragons!
La poutre du toit descellée
Ploie ainsi qu’une herbe mouillée,
Et la vieille porte rouillée
Tremble, à déraciner ses gonds!
Cris de l’enfer! voix qui hurle et qui pleure!
L’horrible essaim, poussé par l’aquilon,
Sans doute, ô ciel! s’abat sur ma demeure.
Le mur fléchit sous le noir bataillon.
La maison crie et chancelle penchée,
Et l’on dirait que, du sol arrachée,
Ainsi qu’il chasse une feuille séchée,
Le vent la roule avec leur tourbillon!
Prophète! si ta main me sauve
De ces impurs démons des soirs,
J’irai prosterner mon front chauve
Devant tes sacrés encensoirs!
Fais que sur ces portes fidèles
Meure leur souffle d’étincelles,
Et qu’en vain l’ongle de leurs ailes
Grince et crie à ces vitraux noirs!
Ils sont passés! – Leur cohorte
S’envole, et fuit, et leurs pieds
Cessent de battre ma porte
De leurs coups multipliés.
L’air est plein d’un bruit de chaînes,
Et dans les forêts prochaines
Frissonnent tous les grands chênes,
Sous leur vol de feu pliés!
De leurs ailes lointaines
Le battement décroît,
Si confus dans les plaines,
Si faible, que l’on croit
Ouïr la sauterelle
Crier d’une voix grêle,
Ou pétiller la grêle
Sur le plomb d’un vieux toit.
Nous viennent encor;
Ainsi, des arabes
Quand sonne le cor,
Un chant sur la grève
Par instants s’élève,
Et l’enfant qui rêve
Fait des rêves d’or.
Les Djinns funèbres,
Fils du trépas,
Dans les ténèbres
Pressent leurs pas;
Leur essaim gronde:
Murmure une onde
Qu’on ne voit pas.
Ce bruit vague
C’est la vague
Sur le bord;
C’est la plainte,
Pour un mort.
La nuit …
Poet Craig Raine started a new school in 1979 — “Martian poetry,” in which the ordinary is “defamiliarized” by seeing it through alien eyes:
In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps,
that snores when you pick it up.
If the ghost cries, they carry it
to their lips and soothe it to sleep
with sounds. And yet, they wake it up
deliberately, by tickling with a finger.
Only the young are allowed to suffer
openly. Adults go to a punishment room
with water but nothing to eat.
They lock the door and suffer the noises
alone. No one is exempt
and everyone’s pain has a different smell.
At night, when all the colours die,
they hide in pairs
and read about themselves –
in colour, with their eyelids shut.
“The task of the artist at any time is uncompromisingly simple,” he said. “To discover what has not yet been done, and to do it.”
E.E. Cummings had to borrow $300 from his mother in order to publish 70 Poems, his 1935 collection of poetry. Vindictively he changed its title to No Thanks and dedicated it to the 14 publishing houses that had rejected it:
Their names form the shape of a funeral urn.
When I was a boy there was a friend of mine,
We thought ourselves warriors and grown folk swine,
Stupid old animals who never understood
And never had an impulse, and said “You must be good!”
We stank like stoats and fled like foxes,
We put cigarettes in the pillar-boxes,
Lighted cigarettes and letters all aflame–
O the surprise when the postman came!
We stole eggs and apples and made fine hay
In people’s houses when people were away,
We broke street lamps and away we ran;
Then I was a boy but now I am a man.
Now I am a man and don’t have any fun,
I hardly ever shout and never never run,
And I don’t care if he’s dead, that friend of mine,
For then I was a boy and now I am a swine.
– G.K. Chesterton
William Barnes (1801-1886) loved language too well. He had written poetry in Standard English from an early age, but in his 30s he switched to the local Dorset dialect, which he felt was more linguistically pure:
Oh! it meäde me a’most teary-ey’d,
An’ I vound I a’most could ha’ groan’d –
What! so winnèn, an’ still cast azide –
What! so lovely, an’ not to be own’d;
Oh! a God-gift a-treated wi’ scorn
Oh! a child that a squier should own;
An’ to zend her awaÿ to be born! –
Aye, to hide her where others be shown!
A philological scholar, he had come to feel that Dorset speech, true to its Anglo-Saxon origins, was the least corrupted form of English, and best suited to paint scenes of rural life. “To write in what some may deem a fast out-wearing speech-form may seem as idle as the writing of one’s name in snow on a spring day,” he wrote. “I cannot help it. It is my mother tongue, and it is to my mind the only true speech of the life that I draw.”
His contemporary admirers included Tennyson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Thomas Hardy, but unfortunately he was right: As Standard English increasingly outmoded his beloved dialect, his poems passed into an undeserved obscurity.
“Had he chosen to write solely in familiar English, rather than in the dialect of his native Dorsetshire, every modern anthology would be graced by the verses of William Barnes,” wrote Charles Dudley Warner. “By reason of their faithfulness to everyday life and to nature, and by their spontaneity and tenderness, his lyrics, fables, and eclogues appeal to cultivated readers as well as to the rustics whose quaint speech he made his own.”
There lived a sage in days of yore,
And he a handsome pigtail wore;
But wondered much and sorrowed more,
Because it hung behind him.
He mused upon this curious case,
And swore he’d change the pigtail’s place,
And have it hanging at his face,
Not dangling there behind him.
Says he, “The mystery I’ve found!
I’ll turn me round,” — he turned him round;
But still it hung behind him.
Then round and round, and out and in,
All day the puzzled sage did spin;
In vain — it mattered not a pin –
The pigtail hung behind him.
And right and left and round about,
And up and down and in and out
He turned; but still the pigtail stout
Hung steadily behind him.
And though his efforts never slack,
And though he twist and twirl, and tack,
Alas! Still faithful to his back,
The pigtail hangs behind him.
The ignorant pronounce it Frood,
To cavil or applaud.
The well-informed pronounce it Froyd,
But I pronounce it Fraud.
– G.K. Chesterton
“On Planning a Visit to Late, a Volcanic Island Southwest of Tonga, With the Author of The Blue Star (Tom Early) and Lotte Lenya”
Lotte came early,
But Early came to Late too early,
& I came to Late too late.
Left Late & Early early.
So I called my late trip to Late off
– Louis Phillips
“A Tryst,” a sadly prophetic poem by Celia Thaxter, from the Atlantic Monthly, August 1872:
From out the desolation of the North
An iceberg took its way,
From its detaining comrades breaking forth,
And travelling night and day.
At whose command? Who bade it sail the deep
With that resistless force?
Who made the dread appointment it must keep?
Who traced its awful course?
To the warm airs that stir in the sweet South
A good ship spread her sails;
Stately she passed beyond the harbor’s mouth,
Chased by the favoring gales.
And on her ample decks a happy crowd
Bade the fair land good by;
Clear shone the day, with not a single cloud
In all the peaceful sky.
Brave men, sweet women, little children bright,
For all these she made room,
And with her freight of beauty and delight
She went to meet her doom.
Storms buffeted the iceberg, spray was swept
Across its loftiest height;
Guided alike by storm and calm it kept
Its fatal path aright.
Then warmer waves gnawed at its crumbling base
As if in piteous plea,
The ardent sun sent slow tears down its face,
Soft flowing to the sea.
Dawn kissed it with her tender rose-tints, eve
Bathed it in violet;
The wistful color o’er it seemed to grieve
With a divine regret.
Whether day clad its clefts in rainbows dim
And shadowy as a dream,
Or night through lonely spaces saw it swim
White in the moonlight’s gleam,
Ever Death rode upon its solemn heights,
Ever his watch he kept;
Cold at its heart through changing days and nights
Its changeless purpose slept.
And where afar a smiling coast it passed
Straightway the air grew chill,
Dwellers thereon perceived a bitter blast,
A vague report of ill.
Like some imperial creature, moving slow
Meanwhile, with matchless grace,
The stately ship, unconscious of her foe,
Drew near the trysting-place.
For still the prosperous breezes followed her,
And half the voyage was o’er;
In many a breast glad thoughts began to stir
Of lands that lay before:
And human hearts with longing love were dumb
That soon should cease to beat,
Thrilled with the hope of meetings soon to come,
And lost in memories sweet.
Was not the weltering waste of water wide
Enough for both to sail?
What drew the two together o’er the tide,
Fair ship and iceberg pale?
There came a night with neither moon nor star,
Clouds draped the sky in black;
With straining canvas reefed at every spar,
And weird fire in her track,
The ship swept on, a wild wind gathering fast
Drove her at utmost speed;
Bravely she bent before the fitful blast
That shook her like a reed.
O helmsman, turn thy wheel! Will no surmise
Cleave through the midnight drear?
No warning of the horrible surprise
Reach thine unconscious ear?
She rushed upon her ruin; not a flash
Broke up the waiting dark:
Dully through wind and sea one awful crash
Sounded, with none to mark.
Scarcely her crew had time to clutch despair,
So swift the work was done;
Ere their pale lips could frame a speechless prayer
They perished, every one!
Now orange-blossoms filigree
The orange tree; but it would be
Remarkable if you should see
Them on some other kind of tree.
A hydroplane pervades the lake
And leaves a wake; but it would make
Observers cry, “For goodness’ sake!”
If it should fail to leave a wake.
The sky is azure overhead;
But spare to call me from my bed
To note its hue, until instead
Of azure, it is brown or red.
Oh, why must poets hail the name
Of Nature with such glad acclaim,
When Nature, whether wild or tame,
Is always pretty much the same!
– Arthur Guiterman
– K.F. Ross, Mensa Bulletin, April 1969
There was an old grocer of Goring
Had a butter assistant named Green,
Who sank through a hole in the flooring
And never was afterwards seen.
Did he look in his cellar?
Did he miss the poor fellow?
Not at all. Quite phlegmatic,
He retired to an attic,
And there watched the moon in her glory o’er Goring –
A sight not infrequently seen.
– Walter de la Mare
As And to Aus, and Aus to Bis;
As Hus to Ita, and Ita to Kys;
As Pay to Pol, and Pol to Ree;
Ah, that is how you are to me!
As Bis to Cal, and Cal to Cha;
As Edw to Eva, and Eva to Fra;
As Ref to Sai, and Sai to Shu;
That is, I hope, how I’m to you.
– New York Tribune, quoted in Life, April 14, 1921
Was not exactly the voice of reason.
– Louis Phillips
H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmic horror tales describe a world that’s literally beyond human understanding — his characters glimpse a universe ruled by monstrous gods whose very aspect imperils our sanity.
For his 2011 experimental poem Cthulhu on Lesbos, David Jalajel reflected this by taking phrases from Lovecraft’s 1928 story “The Call of Cthulhu” and arranging them into Sapphic stanzas without regard to conventional syntax:
Dark to visit faithful But Great had ever
Old The carven idol was great Cthulhu,
None might say or others were like the old but
Things were by word of
Mouth. The chanted secret — was never spoken
Only whispered. chant “In his house at R’lyeh
Dead Cthulhu waits of the found be hanged, and
Rest were committed
It ends, fittingly, on a fearsome but enigmatic note:
Prance and slay around in by sinking black else
World by now be screaming with fright and frenzy.
Knows the end? has risen may sink, and sunk may
Rise. and in deep, and