Divine Mystery

A poem on transubstantiation by Luis de León, quoted by Robert Southey in Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal:

If this we see be bread, how can it last,
So constantly consum’d, yet always here?
If this be God, then how can it appear
Bread to the eye, and seem bread to the taste?
If bread, why is it worshipp’d by the baker?
If God, can such a space a God comprise?
If bread, how is it, it confounds the wise?
If God, how is it that we eat our Maker?
If bread, what good can such a morsel do?
If God, how is it we divide it so?
If bread, such saving virtue could it give?
If God, how can I see and touch it thus?
If bread, how could it come from heav’n to us?
If God, how can I look at it and live?


L is for lovable Lena,
Who met a ferocious hyena;
Whatever occurred
I never have heard;
But anyhow, L is for Lena.

— Anonymous, from Carolyn Wells’ Book of American Limericks, 1925



There once were some learned M.D.’s,
Who captured some germs of disease
And infected a train,
Which, without causing pain,
Allowed one to catch it with ease.

— Oliver Herford

At Sea

Christian Morgenstern’s 1905 nonsense poem “Fish’s Night Song” manages to be both charming and incomprehensible:


That’s it. Jeremy Adler and Ulrich Ernst list the interpretations that have been suggested:

The symbols signify the metre of silent song; the alternation of symbols indicates a fish mouth opening and closing; together, they resemble the frontal view of a choir of fish; they represent water; they resemble the shape of a fish without head or tail. These as well as other interpretations of the poem are quite permissible. Thus we have, in the framework of ‘nonsense literature,’ a new type of visual poetry: a poem of figures that does not imitate any particular form, the abstract figure poem.

“Or, expressed differently,” writes Heinrich Plett in Literary Rhetoric, “the referentiality of this isographemic configuration is polysemous.”


Whenas in silks my Julia goes
Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.
Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free;
Oh how that glittering taketh me!

— Robert Herrick, 1648

Whenas galoshed my Julia goes,
Unbuckled all from top to toes,
How swift the poem becometh prose!
And when I cast mine eyes and see
Those arctics flopping each way free,
Oh, how that flopping floppeth me!

— Bert Leston Taylor, 1922



A globe-trotting man from St. Paul
Made a trip to Japan in the faul.
One thing he found out,
As he rambled about,
Was that Japanese ladies St. Taul.

A censor, whose name was Magee,
Suppressed the whole dictionaree;
When the public said, “No!”
He replied, “It must go!
It has alcohol in it, you see!”

There was a young man from the city,
Who met what he thought was a kitty;
He gave it a pat
And said, “Nice little cat!”
And they buried his clothes out of pity.

Carolyn Wells’ Book of American Limericks, 1925

The Knee on Its Own

A lone knee wanders through the world,
A knee and nothing more;
It’s not a tent, it’s not a tree,
A knee and nothing more.

In battle once there was a man
Shot foully through and through;
The knee alone remained unhurt
As saints are said to do.

Since then it’s wandered through the world,
A knee and nothing more.
It’s not a tent, it’s not a tree,
A knee and nothing more.

— Christian Morgenstern, 1905


“I am willing to give you a show,
But are these all the rôles that you know?”
The manager cried.
And the actor replied,
“Sirrah! No, sir; I know ‘Cyrano’!”

There was a young lady of Butte,
Who thought herself very acute.
That her suitor might praise her,
She gave him a razor,
Which suited her suitor hirsute.

There was a nice fellow named Jenner,
Who sang a phenomenal tenor,
He had little to spend,
So I often would lend
The tenor a ten or a tenner.

‘Tis said, woman loves not her lover
So much as she loves his love of her;
Then loves she her lover
For love of her lover,
Or love of her love of her lover?

— From Carolyn Wells’ Book of American Limericks, 1925.


In 1910 Frances Cornford published “To a Fat Lady Seen From the Train”:

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?

In 1927 G.K. Chesterton felt moved to reply:

Why do you rush through the field in trains,
Guessing so much and so much?
Why do you flash through the flowery meads,
Fat-head poet that nobody reads;
And why do you know such a frightful lot
About people in gloves and such?

Last Lesson


Multiplication is mie vexation,
And Division is quite as bad,
The Golden Rule is mie stumbling stule,
And Practice drives me mad.

So wrote an anonymous English student in 1570. Matters had not progressed far in 1809, when 6-year-old Marjorie Fleming wrote in her diary: “I am now going to tell you about the horible and wretched plaege my multiplication gives me you cant concieve it — the most Devilish thing is 8 times 8 & 7 times 7 it is what nature itselfe cant endure.”

Alas, the feeling is sometimes shared. After serving four years as a teacher, D.H. Lawrence wrote:

When will the bell ring, and end this weariness?
How long have they tugged the leash, and strained apart
My pack of unruly hounds: I cannot start
Them again on a quarry of knowledge they hate to hunt,
I can haul them and urge them no more.
No more can I endure to bear the brunt
Of the books that lie out on the desks: a full three score
Of several insults of blotted pages and scrawl
Of slovenly work that they have offered me.
I am sick, and tired more than any thrall
Upon the woodstacks working weariedly.

And shall I take
The last dear fuel and heap it on my soul
Till I rouse my will like a fire to consume
Their dross of indifference, and burn the scroll
Of their insults in punishment? — I will not!
I will not waste myself to embers for them,
Not all for them shall the fires of my life be hot,
For myself a heap of ashes of weariness, till sleep
Shall have raked the embers clear: I will keep
Some of my strength for myself, for if I should sell
It all for them, I should hate them —
— I will sit and wait for the bell.

See Such, Such Were the Joys.