“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

“Medley of Poems”

The boy stood on the burning deck,
His fleece was white as snow,
He stuck a feather in his hat,
John Anderson, my Jo!

“Come back, come back,” he cried in grief,
“From India’s coral strands,
The frost is on the pumpkin, and
The village smithy stands.

Am I a soldier of the cross,
From many a boundless plain?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
Where saints immortal reign?

Ye banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon,
Across the sands of Dee,
Can I forget that night in June?
My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”

Westminster Monthly, April 1910



A mosquito was heard to complain
That a chemist had poisoned his brain;
The cause of his sorrow
Was paradichloro-

— Anonymous

From a remarkably bad poem by English naturalist Edward Newman (fl. 1840):

First of walkers come the Earwigs,
At the tail we find a weapon,
Very like a pair of pincers,
And with this ’tis said the Earwigs
Open and fold up the hind wings;
You may watch them and observe it;
I have never had the pleasure.

Lear in Limericks


GONERIL/REGAN: Pop’s tops!
LEAR: True Cordelia?
LEAR: I banish you!
KENT: Gad!
LEAR: Vanish!
FOOL: Mad!
Believe me, these sisters
Deceive you.
LEAR: The twisters!
GLOUCESTER: And my boy’s a bastard.
EDMUND: Too bad.
EDGAR: I’m disguised. Tom’s a fruitcake.
LEAR: Me too!
GONERIL/REGAN: Prise those eyes out.
GLOUCESTER: I’m blinded! Boo-hoo!
EDMUND: I fix my own odds.
GLOUCESTER: The gods are such sods.
EDGAR: No they’re not. Jump! All right!
GLOUCESTER: And that’s true.
REGAN: My hubby’s just snuffed it. To bed!
EDMUND: My lady?
GONERIL: He’s mine!
ALBANY: You’re still wed.
LEAR: The law is an ass;
Forgive me, my lass.
CORDELIA: Of course!
ALBANY: They’re all dead!
Good old gods! Three cheers!
KENT: I feel queer!
LEAR: She’s dead. Howl. Fool. Gurgle.
ALBANY: Oh dear!
KENT: He’s dead and I’m dying.
EDGAR: It’s time to start crying;
I’m king. That’s your lot. Shed a tear.

— Bill Greenwell



The Art of Biography
Is different from Geography.
Geography is about Maps,
But Biography is about Chaps.

John Stuart Mill
By a mighty effort of will,
Overcame his natural bonhomie
And wrote Principles of Political Economy.

The people of Spain think Cervantes
Equal to half-a-dozen Dantes:
An opinion resented most bitterly
By the people of Italy.

When Alexander Pope
Accidentally trod on the soap
And came down on the back of his head —
Never mind what he said.

The younger Van Eyck
Was christened Jan, not Mike.
The thought of this curious mistake
Often kept him awake.

“I quite realized,” said Columbus,
“That the Earth was not a rhombus,
But I am a little annoyed
To find it an oblate spheroid.”

— Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956) (More.)

Fan Mail

The one-L lama,
He’s a priest.
The two-L llama,
He’s a beast.
And I would bet
A silk pajama
There isn’t any
Three-L lllama.

When Ogden Nash published this poem, a reader pointed out that a large fire in Boston is a three-alarmer.

Nash responded, “Pooh.”

Abbreviated Verse

A man hired by John Smith and Co.
Loudly declared that he’d tho.
Men that he saw
Dumping dirt near his store;
The drivers, therefore, didn’t do.

There is an old cook in N.Y.
Who insists you should always st.p.
Full vainly he’s tried
To eat some that was fried,
But he says he would rather ch.c.

The sermon our pastor Rt. Rev.
Began may have had a rt. clev.,
But his talk, though consistent,
Kept the end so far distant
That we left, since we felt he mt. nev.

— Anonymous