When the Golden Hind was broken up in 1662, its timbers were fashioned into a chair that still resides in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Abraham Cowley wrote an ode, “Sitting and Drinking in the Chair, Made Out of the Reliques of Sir Francis Drake’s Ship”:
As well upon a staff may Witches ride
Their fancy’d Journies in the Ayr,
As I sail round the Ocean in this Chair:
‘Tis true; but yet this Chair which here you see,
For all its quiet now, and gravitie,
Has wandred, and has travailed more,
Than ever Beast, or Fish, or Bird, or ever Tree before.
In every Ayr, and every Sea’t has been,
‘T has compas’d all the Earth, and all the Heavens ‘t has seen.
Let not the Pope’s it self with this compare,
This is the only Universal Chair.
“While armchair travelers dream of going places,” wrote Anne Tyler, “traveling armchairs dream of staying put.”
Once — but no matter when —
There lived — no matter where —
A man whose name — but then
I need not that declare.
He — well, he had been born,
And so he was alive;
His age — I details scorn —
Was somethingty and five.
He lived — how many years
I truly can’t decide;
But this one fact appears
He lived — until he died.
“He died,” I have averred,
But cannot prove ’twas so,
But that he was interred,
At any rate, I know.
I fancy he’d a son,
I hear he had a wife:
Perhaps he’d more than one,
I know not, on my life!
But whether he was rich,
Or whether he was poor,
Or neither — both — or which,
I cannot say, I’m sure.
I can’t recall his name,
Or what he used to do:
But then — well, such is fame!
‘Twill so serve me and you.
And that is why I thus,
About this unknown man
Would fain create a fuss,
To rescue, if I can,
From dark oblivion’s blow,
Some record of his lot:
But, ah! I do not know
Who — where — when — why — or what.
In this brief pedigree
A moral we should find —
But what it ought to be
Has quite escaped my mind!
— William T. Dobson, Literary Frivolities, Fancies, Follies and Frolics, 1880
How lightly leaps the youthful chamois
From rock to rock and never misses!
I always get all cold and clamois
When near the edge of precipisses.
Confronted by some yawning chasm,
He bleats not for his sire or mamois
(That is, supposing that he has’m),
But yawns himself — the bold young lamois!
He is a thing of beauty always;
And when he dies, a gray old ramois,
Leaves us his horns to deck our hallways;
His skin cleans teaspoons, soiled or jamois.
I shouldn’t like to be a chamois,
However much I am his debtor.
I hate to run and jump; why, damois,
‘Most any job would suit me bebtor!
— Burges Johnson, Beastly Rhymes, 1906
Even is come; and from the dark Park, hark,
The signal of the setting sun–one gun!
And six is sounding from the chime, prime time
To go and see the Drury-Lane Dane slain,–
Or hear Othello’s jealous doubt spout out,–
Or Macbeth raving at that shade-made blade,
Denying to his frantic clutch much touch;–
Or else to see Ducrow with wide stride ride
Four horses as no other man can span;
Or in the small Olympic Pit, sit split
Laughing at Liston, while you quiz his phiz.
Anon Night comes, and with her wings brings things
Such as, with his poetic tongue, Young sung;
The gas up-blazes with its bright white light,
And paralytic watchmen prowl, howl, growl,
About the streets and take up Pall-Mall Sal,
Who, hasting to her nightly jobs, robs fobs.
Now thieves to enter for your cash, smash, crash,
Past drowsy Charley, in a deep sleep, creep,
But frightened by Policeman B 3, flee,
And while they’re going whisper low, “No go!”
Now puss, while folks are in their beds, treads leads.
And sleepers waking, grumble — “Drat that cat!”
Who in the gutter caterwauls, squalls, mauls
Some feline foe, and screams in shrill ill-will.
Now Bulls of Bashan, of a prize size, rise
In childish dreams, and with a roar gore poor
Georgy, or Charley, or Billy, willy-nilly;–
But Nursemaid, in a nightmare rest, chest-pressed,
Dreameth of one of her old flames, James Games,
And that she hears–what faith is man’s!–Ann’s banns
And his, from Reverend Mr. Rice, twice, thrice:
White ribbons flourish, and a stout shout out,
That upward goes, shows Rose knows those bows’ woes!
— Thomas Hood, in The Knickerbocker, October 1845
A maiden once, with eyes of blue,
And mischief a suggestion,
Propounded all her friends unto
A geographic question.
“Why all degrees of latitude
Were longer at th’ equator?”
Their answers brought beatitude
And highly did elate her:
For Mr. Smithson talked to her–
With knowledge was he sated–
“‘T was due to a parabola,”
He wisely demonstrated;
And Mr. Whyte, he murmured much
Of “radial defections,”
While Robinson, with dainty touch,
Discoursed of conic sections;
Then Mr. Browning flowery grew,
And filled himself with glory
By telling much more than he knew–
It was a wondrous story!
But all sit now disconsolate,
And cut a woful figure–
They’ve learned, when it was all too late,
Degrees down there aren’t bigger.
— Anonymous, in A.C. McClurg, The Humbler Poets, 1910
There was a young fellow named Tait,
Who dined with his girl at 8:08;
But I’d hate to relate
What that fellow named Tait
And his tête-à-tête ate at 8:08!
— Anonymous, in A Book of American Humorous Verse, 1917
There was a young man from Pall Mall
Who went to a fancy dress ball.
Just for the fun
He dressed up as a bun;
And was eat by a dog in the hall.
— Anonymous, in A.C. McClurg, The Humbler Poets, 1910
If down his throat a man should choose,
In fun, to jump or slide,
He’d scrape his shoes against his teeth,
Before he went inside.
But if his teeth were lost or gone,
And not a stump to scrape upon,
He’d see at once how very pat
His tongue lay there by way of mat,
And he would wipe his feet on that!
— Edward Cannon
Mrs. H.A. Deming spent a year assembling lines from 38 English and American poets into this mosaic verse, published originally in the San Francisco Times in the 19th century:
Why all this toil for triumphs of an hour? [Young]
Life’s a short summer–man is but a flower. [Dr. Johnson]
By turns we catch the fatal breath and die; [Pope]
The cradle and the tomb, alas! how nigh. [Prior]
To be better far than not to be, [Sewell]
Though all man’s life may seem a tragedy; [Spencer]
But light cares speak when mighty griefs are dumb– [Daniel]
The bottom is but shallow whence they come. [Sir Walter Raleigh]
Thy fate is the common fate of all; [Longfellow]
Unmingled joys here no man befall; [Southwell]
Nature to each allots his proper sphere, [Congreve]
Fortune makes folly her peculiar care. [Churchill]
Custom does often reason overrule, [Rochester]
And throw a cruel sunshine on a fool. [Armstrong]
Live well; how long or short permit to Heaven. [Milton]
They who forgive most shall be most forgiven. [Bailey]
Sin may be clasped so close we cannot see its face– [French]
Vile intercourse where virtue has no place; [Somerville]
Then keep each passion down, however dear, [Thompson]
Thou pendulum betwixt a smile and tear. [Byron]
Her sensual snares let faithless pleasure lay, [Smollett]
With craft and skill to ruin and betray; [Crabbe]
Soar not too high to fall, but stoop to rise; [Massinger]
We masters grow of all that we despise. [Crowley]
Oh, then, renounce that impious self-esteem. [Beattie]
Riches have wings and grandeur is a dream. [Cowper]
Think not ambition wise because ’tis brave, [Sir William Davenant]
The paths of glory lead but to the grave; [Gray]
What is ambition? ‘Tis a glorious cheat, [Wills]
Only destructive to the brave and great. [Addison]
What’s all the gaudy glitter of a crown? [Dryden]
The way to bliss lies not on beds of down. [Francis Quarles]
How long we live, not years, but actions tell; [Watkins]
That man lives twice who lives the first life well. [Herrick]
Make, then, while yet ye may, your God your friend, [William Mason]
Whom Christians worship, yet not comprehend. [Hill]
The trust that’s given guard, and to yourself be just, [Dana]
For live we how we may, yet die we must. [Shakespeare]
Nancy Luce is remembered as a terrible poet, but her life was so sad that it’s hard to laugh. Described by one writer as “chicken mad,” Luce spent 76 years on Martha’s Vineyard, cultivating her birds as personal friends and selling poems about them to tourists. The poems reveal such misery that they can be moving despite their strangeness:
Poor little heart, she was sick one week
With froth in her throat,
Then 10 days and grew worse, with dropsy in her stomach,
I kept getting up nights to see how she was. …
Poor little Ada Queetie’s last sickness and death
Destroyed my health at an unknown rate,
With my heart breaking and weeping,
I kept the fire going night after night,
To keep poor little dear warm.
This was real pain, but visitors saw only an eccentric old woman. She died in 1890, unlamented — and tourists today leave plastic chickens on her grave.