“The reuse of this sentence is forbidden.” — Stephen M. Katcher
For years I’ve been hearing about an immortally bad volume of poetry, The Captain of the ‘Dolphin’ and Other Poems of the Sea, by Frederick J. Johnston-Smith. The glimpses I’ve seen look fantastic:
We piled more wood upon the blazing hearth —
More broken planks from off the mould’ring wreck;
The billets, all composed of Norway pine,
Were evidently portions of the deck.
The morning came the tempest’s trail impatient to elute;
The merry birds assistance gave — played each his fife or flute.
A balminess the darkened hours had brought from out the south.
Each breaker doffed its cap of white and shut its blatant mouth.
Strike, strike your flag, Sidonia,
And lessen death and pain!
“Strike!” “Fight!” are but synonyma
For misery to Spain.
(Where the Goddess Aurora sits shaking her fan
In the face of a vapourless moon —
Where the sun circles round for the half of the year
And is cold — like a yellow balloon)
(to a lapwing:)
I thank you for cutting the thread of my thought
With a snip of your scissors-like bill,
For why should my mind with a thinking be fraught
Of men’s indefectible ill?
I’ve just discovered that the whole thing is on the Internet Archive — including a Glossary of Nautical Terms in which the poet informs us that the “wheel” is “that with which the helmsman steers the ship.”
A followup to David L. Stephens’ palindromic poem “Hannibal, Missouri”: In Walt Kelly’s I Go Pogo (1952), some of the swamp critters are trying to find the turtle Churchy LaFemme guilty of something so they can have turtle soup. Deacon Mushrat announces, “Finally we have a cryptic bit written by Turtle that reeks of guilt”:
Smile, wavering wings
Above rains pour,
While hopefully sings
Love of shorn shore
Shore shorn of love
Sings hopefully while
Pour rains above,
Wings wavering, smile.
Miz Beaver says, “I don’t git it.”
Wiley Catt answers, “That’s the clever part. It’s gotta be read backward.”
Dutch writer Gerard Nolst Trenité’s 1920 poem “The Chaos” is a polemic on the senselessness of English pronunciation:
Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.
Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say–said, pay–paid, laid but plaid.
A Maths Master, teaching at Rye,
Bought his pupils a succulent π.
But we’re sorry to state
With 6=7 knows why.
— Punch, Sept. 29, 1937, via William R. Ransom, One Hundred Mathematical Curiosities, 1953
(I read this as “three overate, with sick sequels, heaven knows why.”)
In Have Ye No Homes To Go To?, his 2016 history of the Irish pub, Kevin Martin quotes an 11th-century poem attributed to St. Brigid of Kildare, who once turned water into beer:
I’d like to give a lake of beer to God.
I’d love the heavenly
Host to be tippling there
For all eternity.
I’d love the men of Heaven to live with me,
To dance and sing.
If they wanted, I’d put at their disposal
Vats of suffering.
I’d sit with the men, the women of God
There by the lake of beer
We’d be drinking good health forever
And every drop would be a prayer.
In 1951 Clement Attlee received this message from 15-year-old Ann Glossop, who had completed her final exams at Penrhos College only to discover that under recent reforms she was considered too young to graduate and must wait a year and go through them again:
Would you please explain, dear Clement
Just why it has to be
That Certificates of Education
Are barred to such as me?
I’ve worked through thirteen papers
But my swot is all in vain
Because at this time next year
I must do them all again.
Please have pity, Clement,
And tell the others too.
Remove the silly age-limit
It wasn’t there for you.
I received with real pleasure
Your verses, my dear Ann.
Although I’ve not much leisure
I’ll reply as best I can.
I’ve not the least idea why
They have this curious rule
Condemning you to sit and sigh
Another year at school.
You’ll understand that my excuse
For lack of detailed knowledge
Is that school certs were not in use
When I attended college.
George Tomlinson is ill, but I
Have asked him to explain
And when I get the reason why
I’ll write to you again.
He lost office shortly thereafter, so Ann’s problem was never solved.
In 1924 British journalist William Norman Ewer published an antisemitic couplet:
How odd of God
To choose the Jews.
It’s been met with at least six responses. From Leo Rosten:
Not odd of God.
Goyim annoy ‘im.
From Cecil Brown:
But not so odd
As those who choose
A Jewish God
Yet spurn the Jews.
Three anonymous replies:
Not odd of God
His son was one.
Not odd, you sod
The Jews chose God.
How strange of man
To change the plan.
And Yale political scientist Jim Sleeper wrote:
Moses, Jesus, Marx, Einstein, and Freud;
No wonder the goyim are annoyed.
O blessed Letters, that combine in one
All ages past, and make one live with all:
By you we doe conferre with who are gone,
And the dead-living unto councell call:
By you th’ unborne shall have communion
Of what we feele, and what doth us befall.
— Samuel Daniel, Musophilus, 1599
O Kangaroo, O Kangaroo,
Be grateful that you’re in the zoo,
And not transmuted by a boomerang
To zestful tangy Kangaroo meringue.
— Ogden Nash