“A Llyric of the Llama”


Behold how from her lair the youthful llama
Llopes forth and llightly scans the llandscape o’er.
With llusty heart she llooks upon llife’s drama,
Relying on her llate-llearnt worldly llore.

But llo! Some llad, armed with a yoke infama
Soon llures her into llowly llabor’s cause;
Her wool is llopped to weave into pajama,
And llanguidly she llearns her Gees and Haws.

My children, heed this llesson from all llanguishing young lllamas,
If you would lllive with lllatitude, avoid each llluring lllay;
And do not lllightly lllleave, I beg, your llllonesome, lllloving mammas,
And llllast of allll, don’t spelllll your name in such a silllllly way.

— Burges Johnson, Everybody’s Magazine, August 1907


Jenny kissed me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in.
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in.
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad;
Say that health and wealth have missed me;
Say I’m growing old, but add —
Jenny kissed me!

— Leigh Hunt

Jenny kissed me when we met.
She, adorned in silk and satin,
Told me, “That is all you get;
And as you leave, don’t let the cat in.”
Retrospection makes me glad:
Dread disease perhaps thus missed me.
God knows what I might have had
Had Jenny more than merely kissed me.

— Bruce Newling

“Office Mottoes”

Motto heartening, inspiring,
Framed above my pretty desk,
Never Shelley, Keats, or Byring
Penned a phrase so picturesque!
But in me no inspiration
Rides my low and prosy brow —
All I think of is vacation
When I see that lucubration:


When I see another sentence
Framed upon a brother’s wall,
Resolution and repentance
Do not flood o’er me at all
As I read that nugatory
Counsel written years ago,
Only when one comes to borry
Do I heed that ancient story:


Mottoes flat and mottoes silly,
Proverbs void of point or wit,
Office mottoes make me weary
And of all the bromide bunch
There is only one I seri-
Ously like, and that’s the cheery:


— Franklin Pierce Adams, Tobogganning on Parnassus, 1913


Image: Wikimedia Commons

From a collection of poems presented to J.B.S. Haldane by colleagues on his 60th birthday:

The Dinosaurs, or so we’re told,
Were far too imbecile to hold
Their own against mammalian brains;
Today not one of them remains.
There is another school of thought,
Which says they suffered from a sort
Of constipation from the loss
Of adequate supplies of moss.

But science now can put before us
The reason true why Brontosaurus
Became extinct. In the Cretaceous
A beast incredibly sagacious
Lived and loved and ate its fill;
Long were its legs, and sharp its bill,
Cunning its hands, to steal the eggs
Of beasts as clumsy in the legs
As Proto- and Triceratops,
And run, like gangsters from the cops,
To some safe vantage-point from which
It could enjoy its plunder rich.
Cleverer far than any fox
Or Stanley in the witness box
No egg was safe from it unless
Retained within its mother’s womb,
And so the Reptiles met their doom.

The Dinosaurs were most put out
And bitterly complained about
The way their eggs, of giant size,
Were eaten up before their eyes,
Before they had a chance to hatch,
By a beast they couldn’t catch.

This awful carnage could not last;
The age of ARCHOSAURS was past.
They went as broody as a hen
When all her eggs are pinched by men.
Older they grew, and sadder yet,
But still no offspring could they get.

Until at last the fearful time, as
Yet unguessed by Struthiomimus
Arrived, when no more eggs were laid,
And then at last was he afraid.
He could not learn to climb with ease
To reach the birds’ nests in the trees,
And though he followed round and round
Some funny furry things he found,
They never laid an egg — not once.
It made him feel an awful dunce.
So, thin beyond all recognition,
He died at last of inanition.


This story has a simple moral
With which the wise will hardly quarrel;
Remember, Prof., it scarcely ever
Pays to be too bloody clever.

— J. Maynard Smith



John Dryden agreed to serve as judge in an impromptu poetry competition among a group of friends, including the Duke of Buckingham, the Earl of Rochester, and Lord Dorset.

All the contestants worked thoughtfully at their entries except for Lord Dorset, who wrote two or three lines and passed them to Dryden almost immediately.

When everyone had finished, Dryden reviewed their submissions, and he smiled when he reached Dorset’s. “I must acknowledge,” he said, “that there are abundance of fine things in my hands, and such as do honor to the personages who wrote them, but I am under the indispensable necessity of giving the highest preference to Lord Dorset. I must request you will hear it yourselves, gentlemen, and I believe each and every one of you will approve my judgment:

I promise to pay John Dryden,
or order on demand,
the sum of five hundred pounds.

“I must confess that I am equally charmed with the style and the subject,” Dryden said. “This kind of writing exceeds any other, whether ancient or modern.”


Closing lines of a letter to Samuel Pepys from his brother-in-law, 1686:

I am Sir Stopped with a Torent of Sorofull Lamentation, for Oh god I have lost, oh I have lost such a loss, that noe man is or cann be Sensible but my Selfe: I have lost my wife, Sir, I have lost my wife; and such a wife, as your Honour knows has (may be) not lefte her felow, I cannot say any more at present being overwhelmed …

From the King James Bible, 2 Samuel 18:33, on David’s grief at the loss of his son:

And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept: and as he went, thus he said: O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!

Poet Paul Monette wrote this elegy after his lover Roger Horwitz died of AIDS on Oct. 22, 1986:

for hours at the end I kissed your temple stroked
your hair and sniffed it it smelled so clean we’d
washed it Saturday night when the fever broke
as if there was always the perfect thing to do
to be alive for years I’d breathe your hair
when I came to bed late it was such pure you
why I nuzzle your brush every morning because
you’re in there just like the dog the night
we unpacked the hospital bag and he skipped
and whimpered when Dad put on the red
sweater Cover my bald spot will you
you’d say and tilt your head like a parrot
so I could fix you up always always
till this one night when I was reduced to
I love you little friend here I am my
sweetest pea over and over spending all our
endearments like stray coins at a border
but wouldn’t cry then no choked it because
they all said hearing was the last to go
the ear is like a wolf’s till the very end
straining to hear a whole forest and I
wanted you loping off whatever you could
still dream to the sound of me at 3 P.M.
you were stable still our favorite word
at 4 you took the turn WAIT WAIT I AM
THE SENTRY HERE nothing passes as long as
I’m where I am we go on death is
a lonely hole two can leap it or else
or else there is nothing this man is mine
he’s an ancient Greek like me I do
all the negotiating while he does battle
we are war and peace in a single bed
we wear the same size shirt it can’t it can’t
be yet not this just let me brush his hair
it’s only Tuesday there’s chicken in the fridge
from Sunday night he ate he slept oh why
don’t all these kisses rouse you I won’t won’t
say it all I will say is goodnight patting
a few last strands in place you’re covered now
my darling one last graze in the meadow
of you and please let your final dream be
a man not quite your size losing the whole
world but still here combing combing
singing your secret names till the night’s gone

Monette himself died of AIDS nine years later.



“Oh! what is that comes gliding in,
And quite in middling haste?
It is the picture of my Jones,
And painted to the waist.

“It is not painted to the life,
For where’s the trowsers blue?
Oh Jones, my dear!–Oh dear! my Jones,
What is become of you?”

“Oh! Sally dear, it is too true,–
The half that you remark
Is come to say my other half
Is bit off by a shark!

“Oh! Sally, sharks do things by halves,
Yet most completely do!
A bite in one place seems enough,
But I’ve been bit in two.

“You know I once was all your own,
But now a shark must share!
But let that pass–for now, to you
I’m neither here nor there.”

“Alas! death has a strange divorce
Effected in the sea,
It has divided me from you,
And even me from me!

“Don’t fear my ghost will walk o’ nights
To haunt, as people say;
My ghost can’t walk, for, oh! my legs
Are many leagues away!

“Lord! think when I am swimming round,
And looking where the boat is,
A shark just snaps away a half,
Without ‘a quarter’s notice.’

“One half is here, the other half
Is near Columbia placed;
Oh! Sally, I have got the whole
Atlantic for my waist.

“But now, adieu–a long adieu!
I’ve solved death’s awful riddle,
And would say more, but I am doomed
To break off in the middle!”

— Thomas Hood, “Sally Simpkin’s Lament,” 1834

“The Rich Man”

The rich man has his motor-car,
His country and his town estate.
He smokes a fifty-cent cigar
And jeers at Fate.

He frivols through the livelong day,
He knows not Poverty her pinch.
His lot seems light, his heart seems gay,
He has a cinch.

Yet though my lamp burns low and dim,
Though I must slave for livelihood —
Think you that I would change with him?
You bet I would!

— Franklin Pierce Adams, Tobogganing on Parnassus, 1913

First Place

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

That’s “Ozymandias,” Shelley’s most popular sonnet. The world was actually offered two entries on this theme: Shelley was writing in competition with his friend Horace Smith, whose own poem appeared in The Examiner three weeks later. Here’s his try:

In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:–
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.”– The City’s gone,–
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.
We wonder,–and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

Enchantingly, Smith titled this “On A Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below.” You can decide which deserves immortality.

Eastern Views


Wry haiku:

Having given his opinion
he returns home to
his wife’s opinion

— Yachō (1882-1960)

“Every woman”
he starts to say,
then looks around

— Anonymous

One umbrella —
the person more in love
gets wet

— Keisanjin (dates unknown)

By saying not to worry
he says something

— Anonymous

At the ticket window
our child becomes
one year younger

— Seiun (dates unknown)

Ted Pauker devised the limeraiku, which compresses the rhymes of a limerick into the form of a haiku. Like limericks, they’re usually off-color:

There’s a vile old man
Of Japan who roars at whores:
“Where’s your bloody fan?”

Another, by W.S. Brownlee:

Said Little Boy Blue:
“Same to you. You scorn my horn?
You know what to do.”

See Lament.