Spoon River

“Lines by an Oxford Don,” from the Globe, June 1805:

My brain was filled with rests of thought,
No more by currying wares distraught,
As lazing dreamily I lay
In my Canoodian canay.

Ah me, methought, how leef were swite
If men could neither wreak nor spite;
No erring bloomers, no more slang,
No tungles then to trip the tang!

No more the undergraddering tits
Would exercise their woolish fits
With tidal ales (and false, I wis)
Of my fame-farred tamethesis!

A sentence that makes equal sense when spoonerized: “I must brush my hat, for it is pouring with rain.”

When George S. Kaufman’s daughter told him a friend had eloped from Vassar, he said, “Ah! She put her heart before the course.”

A Three-Toed Tree Toad’s Ode

Image: Flickr

A he-toad loved a she-toad
That lived high in a tree.
She was a two-toed tree toad
But a three-toed toad was he.

The three-toed tree toad tried to win
The she-toad’s nuptial nod,
For the three-toed tree toad loved the road
The two-toed tree toad trod.

Hard as the three-toed tree toad tried,
He could not reach her limb.
From her tree-toad bower, with her V-toe power
The she-toad vetoed him.

— Anonymous

Time Is Money


Claude Sanguin, a French poet, who died at the close of the last century, having had his house consumed by lightning, sent the following ingenious card to Louis XIV on the occasion. The monarch at once felt the delicacy of the poet’s verses, and the distress of his situation, and cheerfully ordered him the one thousand crowns which were the object of his demand.

To engage in your matters belongs not to me,
This, Sire, inexcusable freedom would be;
But yet, when reviewing my miseries past,
Of your majesty’s income the total I cast;
All counted, (I’ve still the remembrance quite clear,)
Your revenue’s one hundred millions a year;
Hence one hundred thousand per day in your pow’r,
Divided, brings four thousand crowns to each hour,
To answer the calls of my present distress,
Which lightning has caused in my country recess,
May I be allow’d to request, noble Sire,
Of your time fifteen minutes, before I expire?

— I.J. Reeve, The Wild Garland; or, Curiosities of Poetry, 1866

“Power of Short Words”

Bible scholar J. Addison Alexander was once asked whether one could write as forcibly in monosyllables as in long words. He responded with a poem:

Think not that strength lies in the big round word,
Or that the brief and plain must needs be weak.
To whom can this be true who once has heard
The cry of help, the words that all men speak
When want or woe or fear is in the throat,
So that each word is gasped out like a shriek
Pressed from the sore heart, or a strange wild note,
Sung by some fay or fiend? There is a strength
Which dies if stretched too far or spun too fine,
Which has more height than breadth, more depth than length.
Let but this force of thought and speech be mine,
And he that will may take the sleek fat phrase,
Which glows and burns not, though it gleam and shine–
Light but not heat–a flash, but not a blaze!
Nor is it mere strength that the short word boasts;
It serves far more than wind or storm can tell.
Or roar of waves that clash on rock-bound coasts,
The crash of tall trees when the wild winds swell,
The roar of guns, the groans of men that die
On blood-stained fields. It has a voice as well
For them that far off on their sick-beds lie;
For them that weep, for them that mourn the dead;
For them that dance and laugh and clap the hand
To joy’s quick step, as well as grief’s slow tread;
The sweet plain words we learn at first keep time,
And though the theme be sad, or gay, or grand,
With each, with all, these may be made to chime,
In thought, or speech, or song, or prose, or rhyme.

Thou Whoreson Zed!

What’s unique about this poem?

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:
For then my thoughts, from far where I abide,
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee and for myself no quiet find.

It’s the only one of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets that contains all 26 letters of the alphabet.

What Is It?

Here’s one of the most beautiful riddles in the English language. It’s commonly attributed to Byron, but it was composed in 1814 by Catherine Maria Fanshawe, the daughter of a Surrey squire:

‘Twas whispered in heaven, ’twas muttered in hell,
And echo caught faintly the sound as it fell;
On the confines of earth ’twas permitted to rest,
And the depths of the ocean its presence confessed.
‘Twill be found in the sphere when ’tis riven asunder;
‘Tis seen in the lightning, and heard in the thunder.
‘Twas allotted to man from his earliest breath;
It assists at his birth, and attends him in death;
It presides o’er his happiness, honour, and health;
Is the prop of his house, and the end of his wealth.
In the heap of the miser ’tis hoarded with care,
But is sure to be lost in his prodigal heir.
It begins every hope, every wish it must bound,
It prays with the hermit, with monarchs is crowned.
Without it the soldier and seaman may roam,
But woe to the wretch who expels it from home.
In the whispers of conscience ’tis sure to be found;
Nor e’en in the whirlwind of passion is drowned.
‘Twill soften the heart, and though deaf to the ear,
‘Twill make it acutely and constantly hear.
But, in short, let it rest like a beautiful flower;
Oh, breathe on it softly, it dies in an hour.

What is it?

Click for Answer

“A Fat Woman Questions Her Thin Friend”

A girl to B stylish must C zippers close,
D vote E qual F fort keeping buttons in rows.
G, I tried many diets, but H ievement was poor
I was J ded, o K , when I came to her door.
I said, “L egant lady, M bodying graces,
How did you N O ble (reduce) hippy places?
Please don’t be P vish, but answer on Q—
R special S sences T eeming in U?”
“No,” she said, V ehement, “No more W!
X ercise and good eating—that is Y I am trim:
And I’m Z ro doubtful you too can be slim!”

— Lyn Coffin