Harry Graham (1874–1936) led a successful military career and worked as a journalist and lyricist, but he’s best remembered for what might be called “dark light verse”:


Little Willie, in the best of sashes,
Fell in the fire and was burned to ashes.
By and by the room grew chilly,
But no one liked to poke up Willie.

Aunt Eliza

In the drinking-well
(Which the plumber built her)
Aunt Eliza fell–
We must buy a filter.


I had written to Aunt Maud,
Who was on a trip abroad,
When I heard she’d died of cramp
Just too late to save the stamp.


When Grandmamma fell off the boat,
And couldn’t swim (and wouldn’t float),
Matilda just stood by and smiled.
I almost could have slapped the child.


Weep not for little Léonie,
Abducted by a French Marquis!
Though loss of honour was a wrench,
Just think how it’s improved her French.

Mr. Jones

“There’s been an accident,” they said,
“Your servant’s cut in half; he’s dead!”
“Indeed!” said Mr. Jones, “and please
Send me the half that’s got my keys.”

He wrote in one preface:

Fond parent, you whose children are
Of tender age (from two to eight),
Pray keep this little volume far
From reach of such, and relegate
My verses to an upper shelf,–
Where you may study them yourself.

Free Will

I suppose I could try if I chose,
But the question is: “Can I suppose
I could choose what I chose if
I chose?” I suppose if
I chose to. But nobody knows.

— Anonymous

“The Lass o’ the Lab”

“On being asked by an F.R.S. — no less — why modern poetry was so little inspired by Science. To the tune of The Bailiff’s Daughter of Islington.

Now there once was a lass and a very pretty lass,
And she was an isotope’s daughter
And they called her Ethyl-Methyl, for her mother was a gas
Made of Ch17 and water.

She was built on such lines, perhaps parallel lines,
(For Einsten says they’ll never meet),
And her lips resembled the most delicate sines,
And her cheeks were like cosines sweet.

Her hair it was like transformers in a way,
And her eyes like two live coils,
While as for her spectrum, I always used to say,
“I could watch it till it boils.”

Though at making of love I never was a dab,
We were soon on the best of terms,
In fact the first time that I saw her in the lab,
We generated n2 therms.

Her metabolisms I shall never forget
Nor her parallaxes till I die,
But the sad thing is that, whenever we met,
The sparks they used to fly.

Alas and alack! it was ever, ever thus;
We had perforce to part,
For she — she was a minus, and I — I was a plus;
In fact we were poles apart.

Still, Scientists all, I am sorry I was wrong,
And ±0.3
With the Higher Hydrocarbons now shall decorate my song
Instead of the willow-tree.

— Sir J.C. Squire, in Punch, 1936

“The Werewolf”,antiguo.jpg

One night an errant Werewolf fled
His wife and child and visited
A village teacher’s sepulchre
And begged him: “Conjugate me, sir!”

The village teacher then awoke
And standing on his scutcheon spoke
Thus to the beast, who made his seat
With crossed paws at the dead man’s feet:

“The Werewolf,” said that honest wight,
“The Willwolf — future, am I right?
The Wouldwolf — wolf conditional,
The Beowulf — father of them all!”

These tenses had a pleasing sound,
The Werewolf rolled his eyeballs round,
And begged him, as he’d gone so far,
Add plural to the singular.

The village teacher scratched his head;
He’d never heard of that, he said.
Though there were “wolves” in packs and swarms,
Of “were” could be no plural forms!

There werewolf rose up blind with tears
— He’s had a wife and child for years!
But being ignorant of letters
He went home thankful to his betters.

— Christian Morgenstern

“He Suddenly Dropt Dead of Heart-Disease”

D.B. Wyndham Lewis’ 1930 collection The Stuffed Owl celebrates the very worst poetry ever written, such as congressman H.C. Canfield’s elegy on the loss of U.S. submarine S4:

Entrapt inside a submarine,
With death approaching on the scene,
The crew compose their minds to dice,
More for the pleasure than the vice.

But the jewel of the book is the subject index:

Adam, his internal fluids, 18
Bagpipes, their silence regretted, 151
Bards, dead, common objects of the sea-shore, 66
Beef, death-dealing, 239
Cabbage, true-hearted, 22
Englishman, his heart a rich rough gem that leaps and strikes and glows and yearns, 200-1; sun never sets on his might, 201; thinks well of himself, ibid.
Fire, wetness not an attribute of, 28
Goats, Welsh, their agility envied by botanist, 82
Golf, a remedy for unemployment, 16
Harp-string, damped by poet’s tears, 169
Incense of thanksgiving, upwafted from Leeds chimneys, 78
Muse, reformed by a pension, 5; fooled by grovelling sons of verse, 73; the manurial, 91; invited to celebrate Mr. Baker’s return to health, 109; proves unequal to the task, 110
Napoleon I, uncertainty as to his present whereabouts, 10
Newspaper editors, not always truthful, 240
Silk-worm, Spartan tastes of, 150; sinks into hopeless grave, 152
Stud-farms, essential to the Empire’s continued existence, 232
Woman, useful as a protection against lions, 118

Bad to Verse

Cornelius Whur (1782–1853) had a gold heart and a tin ear. Moved by genuine feeling for the unfortunates around him, the Wesleyan minister produced some of the most lamentably funny poems of the 19th century:

Alas! Alas! the father said,
O what a dispensation!
How can we be by mercy led,
In such a situation?
Be not surprised at my alarms,
The dearest boy is without arms!

I have no hope, no confidence,
The scene around is dreary;
How can I meet such vast expense?
I am by trying weary.
You must, my dearest, plainly see
This armless boy will ruin me.

Whur’s other efforts include “The Diseased Legs” and “The Cheerful Invalid.” He has no monument.

Kitty Comp

I send you a small sketch, ‘A Musical Cat.’ It will be perceived that each stroke is a sign used in music, and for the benefit of the uninitiated I give this explanation: Eyes, pauses; ears and nose, accents; whiskers, crescendos; mouth, mordente, outline of head, ties; collar, staff; bells, notes; body, two phrase lines; feet, two crescendos; toes, flats and sharps; tail, two ties.

— Mr. W. Gough, in Strand, October 1906

There was a young curate of Kew
Who kept a tom cat in a pew;
He taught it to speak
Alphabetical Greek
But it never got farther than μ.

— Anonymous