More excerpts from terrible poetry:
The holy night that Christ was born
The ox stood reverently apart,
Both ruminating eaten corn,
And pondering within his heart.
– John Gray (1866–1934), “The Ox”
Then through the white surf did she haste,
To clasp her lovely swain;
When ah! a shark bit through his waist,
His heart’s blood dy’d the main.
– James Grainger (1721-1767), “Bryan and Pereene”
Intoxicating draughts he never does drink
If this we copied should we not be better, think?
– Joseph Gwyer (1835-?), “Ode on the Visit of the Shah of Persia”
A woman kneels among reeds and sands,
Kissing a wee, bronzed child that coos and smiles.
Enough, — great Brahma speaks! — with trembling hands
She hurls her first-born to the crocodiles!
– Francis Saltus Saltus (1849-1889), “Mothers”
Gwyer’s 1875 book Sketches of the Life of Joseph Gwyer (Potato Salesman) With His Poems (Commended by Royalty) invited readers to purchase sacks of his potatoes by mail. The New York Tribune recommended that customers uncertain whether to choose the poetry or the potatoes should choose the latter.
Said Plato: “These things that we feel
Are not ontologically real,
But just the excresence
Of numinous essence
Our senses can never reveal.”
– Basil Ransome-Davies
English historian Robert Blake called Henry James Pye “the worst poet laureate in English history with the possible exception of Alfred Austin.” That’s low praise indeed: Austin’s Randolph: A Tale of Polish Grief purportedly sold 17 copies; he is remembered for the stirringly titled “Go Away, Death” and for a breast fixation in which poetic mammaries open doors and plough the brine.
Elevated probably as a political favor, Pye was roundly criticized for his birthday odes, which were set to music by the court composer. “It is said that the words were often drowned by the instruments,” noted William Forbes Gray. “Certainly, it was a consummation to be devoutly wished”:
God of our fathers rise,
And through the thund’ring skies
Thy vengeance urge
In awful justice red,
By thy dread arrows sped,
But guard our Monarch’s head,
God save great George.
To the loud trumpet’s throat
To the shrill clarion’s note,
Now jocund sing.
From every open foe,
From every traitor’s blow,
Virtue defend his brow,
God guard our King!
Pye once said he would “rather be thought a good Englishman than the best poet or the greatest scholar that ever wrote.” In The Joy of Bad Verse, Nicholas Parsons observes that Pye’s epic Alfred was then “a credit to his sense of patriotism.”
“I must leave here,” said Lady De Vere,
“For these damp airs don’t suit me, I fear.”
Said her friend: “Goodness me!
If they don’t agree
With your system, why eat pears, my dear?”
Harry Graham (1874–1936) led a successful military career and worked as a journalist and lyricist, but he’s best remembered for what might be called “dark light verse”:
Little Willie, in the best of sashes,
Fell in the fire and was burned to ashes.
By and by the room grew chilly,
But no one liked to poke up Willie.
In the drinking-well
(Which the plumber built her)
Aunt Eliza fell–
We must buy a filter.
I had written to Aunt Maud,
Who was on a trip abroad,
When I heard she’d died of cramp
Just too late to save the stamp.
When Grandmamma fell off the boat,
And couldn’t swim (and wouldn’t float),
Matilda just stood by and smiled.
I almost could have slapped the child.
Weep not for little Léonie,
Abducted by a French Marquis!
Though loss of honour was a wrench,
Just think how it’s improved her French.
“There’s been an accident,” they said,
“Your servant’s cut in half; he’s dead!”
“Indeed!” said Mr. Jones, “and please
Send me the half that’s got my keys.”
He wrote in one preface:
Fond parent, you whose children are
Of tender age (from two to eight),
Pray keep this little volume far
From reach of such, and relegate
My verses to an upper shelf,–
Where you may study them yourself.
I suppose I could try if I chose,
But the question is: “Can I suppose
I could choose what I chose if
I chose?” I suppose if
I chose to. But nobody knows.
All persons of higher °
Are proud of a long pe°
And even the masses
Of inferior classes
Unless they are misle°.
– Cyril Bibby
“On being asked by an F.R.S. — no less — why modern poetry was so little inspired by Science. To the tune of The Bailiff’s Daughter of Islington.”
Now there once was a lass and a very pretty lass,
And she was an isotope’s daughter
And they called her Ethyl-Methyl, for her mother was a gas
Made of Ch17 and water.
She was built on such lines, perhaps parallel lines,
(For Einsten says they’ll never meet),
And her lips resembled the most delicate sines,
And her cheeks were like cosines sweet.
Her hair it was like transformers in a way,
And her eyes like two live coils,
While as for her spectrum, I always used to say,
“I could watch it till it boils.”
Though at making of love I never was a dab,
We were soon on the best of terms,
In fact the first time that I saw her in the lab,
We generated n2 therms.
Her metabolisms I shall never forget
Nor her parallaxes till I die,
But the sad thing is that, whenever we met,
The sparks they used to fly.
Alas and alack! it was ever, ever thus;
We had perforce to part,
For she — she was a minus, and I — I was a plus;
In fact we were poles apart.
Still, Scientists all, I am sorry I was wrong,
With the Higher Hydrocarbons now shall decorate my song
Instead of the willow-tree.
– Sir J.C. Squire, in Punch, 1936
No need for confusion if we but recall
That Easter on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox doth fall.
– Justin Richardson
One night an errant Werewolf fled
His wife and child and visited
A village teacher’s sepulchre
And begged him: “Conjugate me, sir!”
The village teacher then awoke
And standing on his scutcheon spoke
Thus to the beast, who made his seat
With crossed paws at the dead man’s feet:
“The Werewolf,” said that honest wight,
“The Willwolf — future, am I right?
The Wouldwolf — wolf conditional,
The Beowulf — father of them all!”
These tenses had a pleasing sound,
The Werewolf rolled his eyeballs round,
And begged him, as he’d gone so far,
Add plural to the singular.
The village teacher scratched his head;
He’d never heard of that, he said.
Though there were “wolves” in packs and swarms,
Of “were” could be no plural forms!
There werewolf rose up blind with tears
– He’s had a wife and child for years!
But being ignorant of letters
He went home thankful to his betters.
– Christian Morgenstern
An amorous M.A.
Says that Cupid, the C.D.,
Doesn’t cast for his health
But is rolling in wealth –
He’s the John Jaco-B.H.
D.B. Wyndham Lewis’ 1930 collection The Stuffed Owl celebrates the very worst poetry ever written, such as congressman H.C. Canfield’s elegy on the loss of U.S. submarine S4:
Entrapt inside a submarine,
With death approaching on the scene,
The crew compose their minds to dice,
More for the pleasure than the vice.
But the jewel of the book is the subject index:
Adam, his internal fluids, 18
Bagpipes, their silence regretted, 151
Bards, dead, common objects of the sea-shore, 66
Beef, death-dealing, 239
Cabbage, true-hearted, 22
Englishman, his heart a rich rough gem that leaps and strikes and glows and yearns, 200-1; sun never sets on his might, 201; thinks well of himself, ibid.
Fire, wetness not an attribute of, 28
Goats, Welsh, their agility envied by botanist, 82
Golf, a remedy for unemployment, 16
Harp-string, damped by poet’s tears, 169
Incense of thanksgiving, upwafted from Leeds chimneys, 78
Muse, reformed by a pension, 5; fooled by grovelling sons of verse, 73; the manurial, 91; invited to celebrate Mr. Baker’s return to health, 109; proves unequal to the task, 110
Napoleon I, uncertainty as to his present whereabouts, 10
Newspaper editors, not always truthful, 240
Silk-worm, Spartan tastes of, 150; sinks into hopeless grave, 152
Stud-farms, essential to the Empire’s continued existence, 232
Woman, useful as a protection against lions, 118
Cornelius Whur (1782–1853) had a gold heart and a tin ear. Moved by genuine feeling for the unfortunates around him, the Wesleyan minister produced some of the most lamentably funny poems of the 19th century:
Alas! Alas! the father said,
O what a dispensation!
How can we be by mercy led,
In such a situation?
Be not surprised at my alarms,
The dearest boy is without arms!
I have no hope, no confidence,
The scene around is dreary;
How can I meet such vast expense?
I am by trying weary.
You must, my dearest, plainly see
This armless boy will ruin me.
Whur’s other efforts include “The Diseased Legs” and “The Cheerful Invalid.” He has no monument.
I send you a small sketch, ‘A Musical Cat.’ It will be perceived that each stroke is a sign used in music, and for the benefit of the uninitiated I give this explanation: Eyes, pauses; ears and nose, accents; whiskers, crescendos; mouth, mordente, outline of head, ties; collar, staff; bells, notes; body, two phrase lines; feet, two crescendos; toes, flats and sharps; tail, two ties.
– Mr. W. Gough, in Strand, October 1906
There was a young curate of Kew
Who kept a tom cat in a pew;
He taught it to speak
But it never got farther than μ.
The boy stood on the burning deck,
His fleece was white as snow,
He stuck a feather in his hat,
John Anderson, my Jo!
“Come back, come back,” he cried in grief,
“From India’s coral strands,
The frost is on the pumpkin, and
The village smithy stands.
Am I a soldier of the cross,
From many a boundless plain?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
Where saints immortal reign?
Ye banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon,
Across the sands of Dee,
Can I forget that night in June?
My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”
– Westminster Monthly, April 1910
A mosquito was heard to complain
That a chemist had poisoned his brain;
The cause of his sorrow
From a remarkably bad poem by English naturalist Edward Newman (fl. 1840):
First of walkers come the Earwigs,
Earwigs or FORFICULINA;
At the tail we find a weapon,
Very like a pair of pincers,
And with this ’tis said the Earwigs
Open and fold up the hind wings;
You may watch them and observe it;
I have never had the pleasure.
GONERIL/REGAN: Pop’s tops!
LEAR: True Cordelia?
CORDELIA: Oh, Dad!
LEAR: I banish you!
Believe me, these sisters
LEAR: The twisters!
GLOUCESTER: And my boy’s a bastard.
EDMUND: Too bad.
EDGAR: I’m disguised. Tom’s a fruitcake.
LEAR: Me too!
GONERIL/REGAN: Prise those eyes out.
GLOUCESTER: I’m blinded! Boo-hoo!
EDMUND: I fix my own odds.
GLOUCESTER: The gods are such sods.
EDGAR: No they’re not. Jump! All right!
GLOUCESTER: And that’s true.
REGAN: My hubby’s just snuffed it. To bed!
EDMUND: My lady?
GONERIL: He’s mine!
ALBANY: You’re still wed.
LEAR: The law is an ass;
Forgive me, my lass.
CORDELIA: Of course!
ALBANY: They’re all dead!
Good old gods! Three cheers!
KENT: I feel queer!
LEAR: She’s dead. Howl. Fool. Gurgle.
ALBANY: Oh dear!
KENT: He’s dead and I’m dying.
EDGAR: It’s time to start crying;
I’m king. That’s your lot. Shed a tear.
– Bill Greenwell
The Art of Biography
Is different from Geography.
Geography is about Maps,
But Biography is about Chaps.
John Stuart Mill
By a mighty effort of will,
Overcame his natural bonhomie
And wrote Principles of Political Economy.
The people of Spain think Cervantes
Equal to half-a-dozen Dantes:
An opinion resented most bitterly
By the people of Italy.
When Alexander Pope
Accidentally trod on the soap
And came down on the back of his head –
Never mind what he said.
The younger Van Eyck
Was christened Jan, not Mike.
The thought of this curious mistake
Often kept him awake.
“I quite realized,” said Columbus,
“That the Earth was not a rhombus,
But I am a little annoyed
To find it an oblate spheroid.”
– Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956) (More.)
The one-L lama,
He’s a priest.
The two-L llama,
He’s a beast.
And I would bet
A silk pajama
There isn’t any
When Ogden Nash published this poem, a reader pointed out that a large fire in Boston is a three-alarmer.
Nash responded, “Pooh.”
A man hired by John Smith and Co.
Loudly declared that he’d tho.
Men that he saw
Dumping dirt near his store;
The drivers, therefore, didn’t do.
There is an old cook in N.Y.
Who insists you should always st.p.
Full vainly he’s tried
To eat some that was fried,
But he says he would rather ch.c.
The sermon our pastor Rt. Rev.
Began may have had a rt. clev.,
But his talk, though consistent,
Kept the end so far distant
That we left, since we felt he mt. nev.
If you have ever, like me,
Missed the “r” and hit the “t,”
Addressing some fat blister
As “Mt.” instead of “Mr.,”
I trust you left it unamended?
– J.B. Boothroyd, Punch, 1948
G stands for gnu,
Whose weapons of defense
Are long, sharp, curling horns, and common sense.
To these he adds a name so short and strong,
That even hardy Boers pronounce it wrong.
How often on a bright autumnal day
The pious people of Pretoria say,
“Come, let us hunt the–” Then no more is heard
But sounds of strong men struggling with a word.
Meanwhile, the distant gnu with grateful eyes
Observes his opportunity and flies.
– Hilaire Belloc
She frowned and called him Mr.
Because in sport he Kr.
And so in spite
That very night
This Mr. Kr. Sr.
The Reverend Henry Ward Beecher
Called a hen a most elegant creature.
The hen, pleased with that,
Laid an egg in his hat–
And thus did the hen reward Beecher.
– Oliver Wendell Holmes