A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
“A sense of obligation.”
– Stephen Crane
Every child who has the use
Of his senses knows a goose.
See them underneath the tree
Gather round the goose-girl’s knee,
While she reads them by the hour
From the works of Schopenhauer.
How patiently the geese attend!
But do they really comprehend
What Schopenhauer’s driving at?
Oh, not at all; but what of that?
Neither do I; neither does she;
And, for that matter, nor does he.
– Oliver Herford
I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one.
That’s “Purple Cow,” written in 1895 by Berkeley drafting instructor Gelett Burgess. It grew so popular that it began to haunt him; eventually he wrote “Confession: And a Portrait Too, Upon a Background That I Rue”:
Ah yes, I wrote the Purple Cow,
I’m sorry now I wrote it.
But I can tell you anyhow,
I’ll kill you if you quote it.
When sporgles spanned the floreate mead
And cogwogs gleet upon the lea,
Uffia gopped to meet her love
Who smeeged upon the equat sea.
Dately she walked aglost the sand;
The boreal wind seet in her face;
The moggling waves yalped at her feet;
Pangwangling was her pace.
– Harriet R. White
A python I should not advise,
It needs a doctor for its eyes,
And has the measles yearly.
However, if you feel inclined
To get one (to improve your mind,
And not from fashion merely),
Allow no music near its cage;
And when it flies into a rage
Chastise it most severely.
I had an Aunt in Yucatan
Who bought a Python from a man
And kept it for a pet.
She died because she never knew
These simple little rules and few;–
The snake is living yet.
– Hilaire Belloc
There once was an old man of Lyme
Who married three wives at a time
When asked, “Why a third?”
He replied, “One’s absurd
And bigamy, sir, is a crime.”
– William Cosmo Monkhouse
Across the moorlands of the Not
We chase the gruesome When;
And hunt the Itness of the What
Through forests of the Then.
Into the Inner Consciousness
We track the crafty Where;
We spear the Ego tough, and beard
The Selfhood in his lair.
With lassos of the brain we catch
The Isness of the Was;
And in the copses of the Whence
We hear the think bees buzz.
We climb the slippery Whichbark tree
To watch the Thusness roll
And pause betimes in gnostic rimes
To woo the Over Soul.
My child, the Duck-billed Platypus
A sad example sets for us:
From him we learn how Indecision
Of character provokes Derision.
This vacillating Thing, you see,
Could not decide which he would be,
Fish, Flesh or Fowl, and chose all three.
The scientists were sorely vexed
To classify him; so perplexed
Their brains, that they, with Rage at bay,
Call him a horrid name one day,–
A name that baffles, frights and shocks us,
– Oliver Herford
The night was growing old
As she trudged through snow and sleet;
And her nose was long and cold,
And her shoes were full of feet.
Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
And I am Marie of Roumania.
– Dorothy Parker
The rain it raineth every day
Upon the just and unjust fella;
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust has the just’s umbrella.
– Central Law Journal, June 19, 1908
Oh that my lungs could bleat like buttered peas;
But bleating of my lungs hath caught the itch,
And are as mangy as the Irish seas
That offer wary windmills to the rich.
I grant that rainbows being lulled asleep,
Snort like a woodknife in a lady’s eyes;
Which makes her grieve to see a pudding creep,
For creeping puddings only please the wise.
Not that a hard-roed herring should presume
To swing a tithe-pig in a catskin purse;
For fear the hailstones which did fall at Rome,
By lessening of the fault should make it worse.
For ’tis most certain winter woolsacks grow
From geese to swans if men could keep them so,
Till that the sheep-shorn planets gave the hint
To pickle pancakes in Geneva print.
Some men there were that did suppose the skie
Was made of carbonadoed antidotes;
But my opinion is, a whale’s left eye,
Need not be coined all King Harry groats.
The reason’s plain, for Charon’s western barge
Running a tilt at the subjunctive mood,
Beckoned to Bednal Green, and gave him charge
To fasten padlocks with Antarctic food.
The end will be the millponds must be laded,
To fish for white pots in a country dance;
So they that suffered wrong and were upbraided
Shall be made friends in a left-handed trance.
– “Nonsense,” Anonymous, 1617
I wish I were a jelly fish
That cannot fall downstairs:
Of all the things I wish to wish
I wish I were a jelly fish
That hasn’t any cares,
And doesn’t even have to wish
“I wish I were a jelly fish
That cannot fall downstairs.”
– G.K. Chesterton
There once was a man who said, “Damn!
It is borne in upon me I am
An engine that moves
In predestinate grooves:
I’m not even a bus, I’m a tram.”
– M.E. Hare (1886-1967)
As a friend to the children commend me the Yak,
You will find it exactly the thing:
It will carry and fetch, you can ride on its back,
Or lead it about with a string.
The Tartar who dwells on the plains of Thibet
(A desolate region of snow)
Has for centuries made it a nursery pet,
And surely the Tartar should know!
Then tell your papa where the Yak can be got,
And if he is awfully rich
He will buy you the creature — or else he will not.
(I cannot be positive which.)
– Hilaire Belloc
“Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den,” a poem by Zhao Yuanren, in English:
In a stone den was a poet Shi Shi, who loved to eat lions, and decided to eat ten.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
One day at ten o’clock, ten lions just arrived at the market.
At that time, Shi Shi just arrived at the market too.
Seeing those ten lions, he killed them with arrows.
He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.
After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.
When he ate, he realized that those ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this.
… and in Hanyu Pinyin:
Shishi shishi Shi Shi, shi shi, shi shi shi shi.
Shi shishi shi shi shi shi.
Shi shi, shi shi shi shi shi.
Shi shi, shi Shi Shi shi shi.
Shi shi shi shi shi, shi shi shi, shi shi shi shi shishi.
Shi shi shi shi shi shi, shi shishi.
Shishi shi, Shi shi shi shi shishi.
Shishi shi, Shi shi shi shi shi shi shi.
Shi shi, shi shi shi shi shi, shi shi shi shi shi.
Shi shi shi shi.
The Omnificent English Dictionary in Limerick Form has more than 3,000 definitions presented as limericks:
In your mouth goes a protein intact,
Linked by peptide bonds, matter of fact!
N-type -ases undo
(From the N-side) the glue,
Yielding bits for your gut to extract.
And yet there’s no entry for dog.
William Topaz McGonagall is renowned as the worst poet in the English language. Sample:
Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.
He didn’t even get the facts right here — 75 died.
In the opening to his Poetic Gems, McGonagall wrote, “The most startling incident in my life was the time I discovered myself to be a poet.” Millions agreed. Stephen Pile, in The Book of Heroic Failures, calls him “so giftedly bad he backed unwittingly into genius”; his temperance speeches were wildly popular with “poet-baiters” in Dundee, who pelted him with eggs and vegetables, and he was allowed to play Macbeth only if he paid in advance.
When Tennyson died, McGonagall visited Balmoral to ask if he might become poet laureate. He was told the queen was not at home.
There was a young man from Lahore
Whose limericks stopped at line four.
When asked why this was,
He responded, “Because.”
There was a young man from Iran
Whose poetry just wouldn’t scan.
When they said, “But the thing
Doesn’t go with the swing,”
He replied, “Yes, I’m aware of that, but I like to put as many syllables in the last line as I can.”