“The Story of Esaw Wood”

Esaw Wood sawed wood.

Esaw Wood would saw wood!

All the wood Esaw Wood saw Esaw Wood would saw. In other words, all the wood Esaw saw to saw Esaw sought to saw.

Oh, the wood Wood would saw! And oh, the wood-saw with which Wood would saw wood.

But one day Wood’s wood-saw would saw no wood, and thus the wood Wood sawed was not the wood Wood would saw if Wood’s wood-saw would saw wood.

Now, Wood would saw wood with a wood-saw that would saw wood, so Esaw sought a saw that would saw wood.

One day Esaw saw a saw saw wood as no other wood-saw Wood saw would saw wood.

In fact, of all the wood-saws Wood ever saw saw wood Wood never saw a wood-saw that would saw wood as the wood-saw Wood saw saw wood would saw wood, and I never saw a wood-saw that would saw as the wood-saw Wood saw would saw until I saw Esaw Wood saw wood with the wood-saw Wood saw saw wood.

Now Wood saws wood with the wood-saw Wood saw saw wood.

Oh, the wood the wood-saw Wood saw would saw!

Oh, the wood Wood’s woodshed would shed when Wood would saw wood with the wood-saw Wood saw saw wood!

Finally, no man may ever know how much wood the wood-saw Wood saw would saw, if the wood-saw Wood saw would saw all the wood the wood-saw Wood saw would saw.

— W.E. Southwick

Anthologist Carolyn Wells writes, “Well, you don’t have to read it.”

“Bonaparte and the Echo”


Bonaparte: Alone I am in this sequestered spot, not overheard.
Echo: Heard.
Bonaparte: ‘Sdeath! Who answers me? What being is there nigh?
Echo: I.
Bonaparte: Now I guess! To report my accents Echo has made her task.
Echo: Ask.
Bonaparte: Knowest thou whether London will henceforth continue to resist?
Echo: Resist.
Bonaparte: Whether Vienna and other courts will oppose me always?
Echo: Always.
Bonaparte: O, Heaven! what must I expect after so many reverses?
Echo: Reverses.
Bonaparte: What! should I, like a coward vile, to compound be reduced?
Echo: Reduced.
Bonaparte: After so many bright exploits be forced to restitution?
Echo: Restitution.
Bonaparte: Restitution of what I’ve got by true heroic feats and martial address?
Echo: Yes.
Bonaparte: What will be the fate of so much toil and trouble?
Echo: Trouble.
Bonaparte: What will become of my people, already too unhappy?
Echo: Happy.
Bonaparte: What should I then be that I think myself immortal?
Echo: Mortal.
Bonaparte: The whole world is filled with the glory of my name, you know.
Echo: No.
Bonaparte: Formerly its fame struck this vast globe with terror.
Echo: Error.
Bonaparte: Sad Echo, begone! I grow infuriate! I die!
Echo: Die!

It’s said that the Nuremberg bookseller who penned this clever bit of sedition was court-martialed and shot in 1807. Napoleon later said, “I believe he met with a fair trial.”

“The Pessimist”

Nothing to do but work,
Nothing to eat but food,
Nothing to wear but clothes,
To keep one from going nude.

Nothing to breathe but air,
Quick as a flash ‘t is gone;
Nowhere to fall but off,
Nowhere to stand but on.

Nothing to comb but hair,
Nowhere to sleep but in bed,
Nothing to weep but tears,
Nothing to bury but dead.

Nothing to sing but songs,
Ah, well, alas! alack!
Nowhere to go but out,
Nowhere to come but back.

Nothing to see but sights,
Nothing to quench but thirst,
Nothing to have but what we’ve got;
Thus through life we are cursed.

Nothing to strike but a gait;
Everything moves that goes.
Nothing at all but common sense
Can ever withstand these woes.

— Ben King, collected in Joel Chandler Harris, ed., American Wit and Humor, 1907

“Literal Obedience”

“Oh, slip on something and come down quick!”
His wife exclaimed with a frightened air.
He did: and he feels he has been played a trick–
For he slipped on a rug at the top of the stair.

— Bert Leston Taylor, collected in A Book of American Humorous Verse, 1917

Unsuitable Footwear

There was a young lady of Twickenham
Whose shoes were too tight to walk quick in ’em;
She came back from her walk
Looking white as a chalk
And took ’em both off and was sick in ’em.

— Oliver Herford, collected in Carolyn Wells, The Book of Humorous Verse, 1920

Blue Verse

Risqué limericks by W.H. Auden:

There was a young poet whose sex
Was aroused by aesthetic effects;
Marvell’s The Garden
Gave him a hard-on
And he came during Oedipus Rex.

Said the Queen to the King: “I don’t frown on
The fact that you choose to go down on
My page on the stairs
But you’ll give the boy airs
If you will do the job with your crown on.”

The Bishop-Elect of Hong Kong
Has a cock which is ten inches long;
He thinks the spectators
Are admiring his gaiters
When he goes to the Gents–he is wrong.

“Poetry is nobody’s business except the poet’s,” wrote Philip Larkin, “and everybody else can fuck off.”

“Epistle Written in a Diving-Bell”

A lady, of the name of Morris, the wife of Major Morris, had lately the courage to descend in the diving-bell, at Plymouth, and was probably the first of her sex who has penetrated into ‘the dark unfathom’d caves of ocean.’ On this occasion, whilst under water, she wrote a note to her father, which concluded with the following lines:

From a belle, my dear father, you’ve oft had a line,
But not from a bell under water;
Just now I can only assure you I’m thine,
Your dutiful, diving, affectionate daughter.

— J. Taylor, Eccentric and Humorous Letters of Eminent Men and Women, 1824



Nicholas Murray Butler presided over Columbia University for 43 years and won the Nobel Peace Prize; Teddy Roosevelt called him “Nicholas Miraculous.”

His students sometimes held a different opinion; when one of them, Rolfe Humphries, was invited to contribute an ode to Poetry in 1939, he sent this:

Niobe’s daughters yearn to the womb again,
Ionians bright and fair, to the chill stone;
Chaos in cry, Actaeon’s angry pack,
Hounds of Molussus, shaggy wolves driven

Over Ampsanctus’ vale and Pentheus’ glade,
Laelaps and Ladon, Dromas, Canace,–
As these in fury harry brake and hill
So the great dogs of evil bay the world.

Memory, Mother of Muses, be resigned
Until King Saturn comes to rule again!
Remember now no more the golden day
Remember now no more the fading gold,
Astraea fled, Proserpina in hell;
You searchers of the earth be reconciled!

Because, through all the blight of human woe,
Under Robigo’s rust, and Clotho’s shears,
The mind of man still keeps its argosies,
Lacedaemonian Helen wakes her tower,

Echo replies, and lamentation loud
Reverberates from Thrace to Delos Isle;
Itylus grieves, for whom the nightingale
Sweetly as ever tunes her Daulian strain.
And over Tenedos the flagship burns.

How shall men loiter when the great moon shines
Opaque upon the sail, and Argive seas
Rear like blue dolphins their cerulean curves?
Samos is fallen, Lesbos streams with fire,
Etna in rage, Canopus cold in hate,
Summon the Orphic bard to stranger dreams.

And so for us who raise Athene’s torch.
Sufficient to her message in this hour:
Sons of Columbia, awake, arise!

Read the first letter of each line.

More abusive acrostics: Poetic License, Thanks for Nothing, In Memoriam.

“Unsatisfied Yearning”

Down in the silent hallway
Scampers the dog about,
And whines, and barks, and scratches,
In order to get out.

Once in the glittering starlight,
He straightway doth begin
To set up a doleful howling
In order to get in.

— R.K. Munkittrick, in A Book of American Humorous Verse, ed. Carolyn Wells, 1917

“The New Vestments”

There lived an old man in the Kingdom of Tess,
Who invented a purely original dress;
And when it was perfectly made and complete,
He opened the door and walked into the street.

By way of a hat he’d a loaf of Brown Bread,
In the middle of which he inserted his head;
His Shirt was made up of no end of dead Mice,
The warmth of whose skins was quite fluffy and nice;
His Drawers were of Rabbit-skins, so were his Shoes;
His Stockings were skins, but it is not known whose;
His Waistcoat and Trowsers were made of Pork Chops;
His Buttons were Jujubes and Chocolate Drops;
His Coat was all Pancakes, with Jam for a border,
And a girdle of Biscuits to keep it in order.
And he wore over all, as a screen from bad weather,
A Cloak of green Cabbage-leaves stitched all together.

He had walked a short way, when he heard a great noise
Of all sorts of Beasticles, Birdlings, and Boys;
And from every long street and dark lane in the town
Beasts, Birdles, and Boys in a tumult rushed down.
Two Cows and a Calf ate his Cabbage-leaf Cloak;
Four Apes seized his Girdle, which vanished like smoke;
Three Kids ate up half of his Pancaky Coat,
And the tails were devoured by an ancient He-Goat;
An army of Dogs in a twinkling tore up his
Pork Waistcoat and Trowsers to give to their Puppies;
And while they were growling and mumbling the Chops,
Ten Boys prigged the Jujubes and Chocolate Drops.
He tried to run back to his house, but in vain,
For scores of fat Pigs came again and again;
They rushed out of stables and hovels and doors;
They tore off his Stockings, his Shoes, and his Drawers.
And now from the housetops with screechings descend
Striped, spotted, white, black, and grey Cats without end;
They jumped on his shoulders and knocked off his hat,
When Crows, Ducks, and Hens made a mincemeat of that:
They speedily flew at his sleeves in a trice
And utterly tore up his Shirt of dead Mice;
They swallowed the last of his Shirt with a squall,–
Whereon he ran home with no clothes on at all.

And he said to himself as he bolted the door,
“I will not wear a similar dress any more,
“Any more, any more, any more, nevermore!”

— Edward Lear