Express

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Parovoz_FD_Kartina.jpg

Panegyric to a train, from the Hurutshe people of South Africa:

Iron thing coming from Pompi, from the round-house
Where Englishmen smashed their hands on it,
It has no front it has no back.
Rhino Tshukudu going that way.
Rhino Tshukudu no, coming this way.
I’m no greenhorn, I’m a strong, skillful man.
Animal coming from Pompi, from Moretele.
It comes spinning out a spider’s web under a cloud of gnats
Moved by the pulling of a teat, animal coming from Kgobola-diatla
Comes out of the big hole in the mountain, mother of the great woman,
Coming on iron cords.
I met this woman of the tracks curving her way along the river bank and over the river.
I thought I’d snatch her
So I said
“Out of the way, son of Mokwatsi, who stands there at the teat.”
The stream of little red and white birds gathered up all of its track
Clean as a whistle.
Tshutshu over the dry plains
Rhino Tshukudu out of the high country
Animal from the south, steaming along
It comes from Pompi, the round-house, from Kgobola-diatla.

(Jerome Rothenberg, Technicians of the Sacred, 1968; Ruth Finnegan, Oral Literature in Africa, 2012.)

Mnemonic

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Archimede_-_Langetti.jpg

This French alexandrine encodes π to 126 decimal places:

Que j’aime à faire apprendre un nombre utile aux sages!
Immortel Archimède, artiste ingénieur,
Qui de ton jugement peut priser la valeur?
Pour moi, ton problème eut de pareils avantages.
Jadis, mystérieux, un problème bloquait
Tout l’admirable procédé, l’œuvre grandiose
Que Pythagore découvrit aux anciens Grecs.
Ô quadrature! vieux tourment du philosophe!
Insoluble rondeur, trop longtemps vous avez
Défié Pythagore et ses imitateurs.
Comment intégrer l’espace plan circulaire?
Former un triangle auquel il équivaudra?
Nouvelle invention: Archimède inscrira
Dedans un hexagone; appréciera son aire,
Fonction du rayon. Pas trop ne s’y tiendra:
Dédoublera chaque élément antérieur;
Toujours de l’orbe calculée approchera;
Définira limite; enfin, l’arc, le limiteur
De cet inquiétant cercle, ennemi trop rebelle!
Professeur, enseignez son problème avec zèle!

Translation:

How I like to teach this number useful to the wise.
Immortal Archimedes, artist, engineer,
In your opinion who could estimate its value?
For me, your problem had equal advantages.
Long ago, mysterious, a problem blocked
All the honorable process, the great work
That Pythagoras revealed to the Ancient Greeks.
Oh quadrature! Old philosopher’s torment
Unsolvable roundness, for too long you have
Defied Pythagoras and his imitators.
How to integrate the plain circular space?
Form a triangle to which it is equivalent?
New invention: Archimedes will inscribe
Inside a hexagon; will appreciate its area
Function of a ray. Not too much to hold onto there:
Will split each previous element;
Always the calculated orb will approach
Will define the limit; finally, the arc, the limiter
Of this disturbing circle, an enemy too rebellious
Teacher, teach its problem with zeal.

I don’t know who came up with it — Alfred Posamentier traces it as far back as the Nouvelle Correspondence Mathematique of Brussels, 1879.

Epigram

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jacob_Jordaens_-_Het_oordeel_van_Midas.JPG

Midas, they say, possessed the art of old
Of turning whatsoe’er he touch’d to gold;
This modern statesmen can reverse with ease —
Touch them with gold, they’ll turn to what you please.

— John Wolcot (1738-1819)

Lament

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Lovesickness_of_Frey.jpg

She who is always in my thoughts prefers
Another man, and does not think of me.
Yet he seeks for another’s love, not hers;
And some poor girl is grieving for my sake.
Why, then, the devil take
Both her and him; and love; and her; and me.

— Bhartrhari, 5th century CE, translated from the Sanskrit by John Brough

Drumbeats

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_song_of_Hiawatha_MET_DP-12259-004.jpg

In 2004 Stanford physicist R.B. Laughlin wrote a 12-page poem critiquing of the theory of resonating valence bonds. He set it in trochaic tetrameter, after Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha:

What ensued was simply awesome,
Destined to go down in legend.
They proposed a cuprate theory
So magnificent in concept,
So much bolder than the others
That it blasted them to pieces
Like some big atomic warhead,
So outshined them in its glory
Like a nova in the heavens
That it blinded any person
Who would dare to gaze upon it.
Cuprates did these things, it stated,
Just because a quirk of nature
Made them like the Hubbard model,
Which, as had been long established,
Did some things quite fundamental,
Not yet known to modern science,
Which explained the crazy data,
So to understand the cuprates
One would have to solve this model.
How colossal! How stupendous!
It was absolutely foolproof!
No one could disprove this theory
With existing mathematics
Or experimental data
For exactly the same reasons
Nor could they admit they couldn’t,
So they’d spend their whole lives trying,
Blame themselves for being so stupid,
And pay homage in each paper
With the requisite citation!

The whole thing is here. (Thanks, Daniele.)

Related: Mark Twain’s father, a justice of the peace, once told his son that there was more poetry in a warranty deed than in Longfellow’s verse. So Twain “took the stupid warranty deed itself and chopped it up into Hiawathian blank verse, without altering or leaving out three words, and without transposing six”:

THE STORY OF A GALLANT DEED.

THIS INDENTURE, made the tenth
Day of November, in the year
Of our Lord one thousand eight
Hundred six-and-fifty,

Between JOANNA S.E. GRAY
And PHILIP GRAY, her husband,
Of Salem City in the State
Of Texas, of the first part,

And O.B. Johnson, of the town
Of Austin, ditto, WITNESSETH:
That said party of first part,
For and in consideration

Of the sum of Twenty Thousand
Dollars, lawful money of
The U.S. of Americay,
To them in hand now paid by said

Party of the second part,
The due receipt whereof is here
By confessed and acknowledg-ed,
Have Granted, Bargained, Sold, Remised,

Released and Aliened and Conveyed,
Confirmed, and by these presents do
Grant and Bargain, Sell, Remise,
Alien, Release, Convey, and Con-

Firm unto the said aforesaid
Party of the second part,
And to his heirs and assigns
Forever and ever, ALL

That certain piece or parcel of
LAND situate in city of
Dunkirk, county of Chautauqua,
And likewise furthermore in York State,

Bounded and described, to-wit,
As follows, herein, namely:
BEGINNING at the distance of
A hundred two-and-forty feet,

North-half-east, north-east-by-north,
East-north-east and northerly
Of the northerly line of Mulligan street,
On the westerly line of Brannigan street,

And running thence due northerly
On Brannigan street 200 feet,
Thence at right angles westerly,
North-west-by-west-and-west-half-west,

West-and-by-north, north-west-by-west,
About —

That’s as far as he got in reciting it to his father. “I kind of dodged, and the boot-jack broke the looking glass. I could have waited to see what became of the other missiles if I had wanted to, but I took no interest in such things.”

Impromptu

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stephen_spender.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Lunching at Stephen Spenders’ in 1946, T.S. Eliot admired his host’s transparent cigarette case. Spender sent it to him with this verse:

When those aged eagle eyes which look
Through human flesh as through a book,
Swivel an instant from the page
To ignite the luminous image
With the match that lights his smoke —
Then let the case be transparent
And let the cigarettes, apparent
To his x-ray vision, lie
As clear as rhyme and image to his eye.

Eliot responded:

The sudden unexpected gift
Is more precious in the eyes
Than the ordinary prize
Of slow approach or movement swift.
While the cigarette is whiffed
And the tapping finger plies
Here upon the table lies
The fair transparency. I lift
The eyelids of the aging owl
At twenty minutes to eleven
Wednesday evening (summer time)
To salute the younger fowl
With this feeble halting rhyme
The kind, the admirable Stephen.

“The End of the Line”

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BarrowAmbushSite1934.jpg

In the spring of 1934, as police closed in on her and Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker left a poem with her mother:

You’ve read the story of Jesse James
Of how he lived and died
If you’re still in need of something to read
Here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde.

Now Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow Gang,
I’m sure you all have read
how they rob and steal and those who squeal
are usually found dying or dead.

There’s lots of untruths to these write-ups
They’re not so ruthless as that
Their nature is raw, they hate all law
Stool pigeons, spotters, and rats.

They call them cold-blooded killers
They say they are heartless and mean
But I say this with pride, I once knew Clyde
When he was honest and upright and clean.

But the laws fooled around and taking him down
and locking him up in a cell
‘Til he said to me, “I’ll never be free,
So I’ll meet a few of them in hell.”

The road was so dimly lighted
There were no highway signs to guide
But they made up their minds if all roads were blind
They wouldn’t give up ’til they died.

The road gets dimmer and dimmer
Sometimes you can hardly see
But it’s fight man to man, and do all you can
For they know they can never be free.

From heartbreak some people have suffered
From weariness some people have died
But all in all, our troubles are small
‘Til we get like Bonnie and Clyde.

If a policeman is killed in Dallas
And they have no clue or guide
If they can’t find a fiend, just wipe the slate clean
And hang it on Bonnie and Clyde.

There’s two crimes committed in America
Not accredited to the Barrow Mob
They had no hand in the kidnap demand
Nor the Kansas City Depot job.

A newsboy once said to his buddy
“I wish old Clyde would get jumped
In these hard times we’d get a few dimes
If five or six cops would get bumped.”

The police haven’t got the report yet
But Clyde called me up today
He said, “Don’t start any fights, we aren’t
working nights, we’re joining the NRA.”

From Irving to West Dallas viaduct
Is known as the Great Divide
Where the women are kin, and men are men
And they won’t stool on Bonnie and Clyde.

If they try to act like citizens
And rent a nice flat
About the third night they’re invited to fight
By a sub-gun’s rat-tat-tat.

They don’t think they’re tough or desperate
They know the law always wins
They’ve been shot at before, but they do not ignore
That death is the wages of sin.

Some day they’ll go down together
And they’ll bury them side by side
To few it’ll be grief, to the law a relief
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.

That May they were ambushed on a Louisiana backroad, where police fired 130 rounds into their car. She was 23, Clyde 25.

Men in Aida

In 1983 poet David Melnick reinterpreted the first book of Homer’s Iliad by brutely understanding the spoken Greek as English, producing a bathhouse farce:

Men in Aida, they appeal, eh? A day, O Achilles.
Allow men in, emery Achaians. All gay ethic, eh?
Paul asked if team mousse suck, as Aida, pro, yaps in.
Here on a Tuesday. “Hello,” Rhea to cake Eunice in.
“Hojo” noisy tap as hideous debt to lay at a bully.
Ex you, day. Tap wrote a “D,” a stay. Tenor is Sunday.
Atreides stain axe and Ron and ideas’ll kill you.

In 2015 he published two more books, in each “hearing” Homer’s words as English. He calls it Men in Aïda.

A British Limerick

A young man called Cholmondeley Colquhoun
Kept as a pet a babolquhoun.
His mother said, “Cholmondeley,
Do you think it quite colmondeley
To feed your babolquhoun with a spolquhoun?”

(Via Willard R. Espy.)