Seeing Stars

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Copernicus, that learned wight,
The glory of his nation,
With draughts of wine refreshed his sight,
And saw the Earth’s rotation;
Each planet then its orb described,
The Moon got under way, sir;
These truths from nature he imbibed
For he drank his bottle a day, sir!

— From “The Astronomer’s Drinking Song,” in Augustus De Morgan’s Budget of Paradoxes, 1866

“It Means Just What I Choose It to Mean”

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Do you recognize this passage?

Homme petit d’homme petit, s’attend, n’avale
Homme petit d’homme petit, à degrés de bègues folles
Anal deux qui noeuds ours, anal deux qui noeuds s’y mènent
Coup d’un poux tome petit tout guetteur à gaine

No? Try reading it aloud.

Cognitive scientists use it to illustrate the complexity of human communications.

“We have seen thee, Queen of Cheese …”

Among bad poets, James McIntyre (1828-1906) became known as “the Chaucer of Cheese” for his pastoral odes to Ontario and its dairy culture:

The ancient poets ne’er did dream
That Canada was land of cream,
They ne’er imagined it could flow
In this cold land of ice and snow,
Where everything did solid freeze
They ne’er hoped or looked for cheese.

McIntyre was remarkably bad, but can he compete with the worst of all time? Yes, declared the mayor of Ingersoll: “He was every bit as bad as McGonagall — and a lot less talented.”

“An Orthographic Lament”

If an S and an I and an O and a U
With an X at the end spell Su;
And an E and a Y and an E spell I,
Pray what is a speller to do?

Then, if also an S and an I and a G
And an HED spell side,
There’s nothing much left for a speller to do
But to go and commit siouxeyesighed.

— Charles Follen Adams

Limerick

There was a young man of St. Bees
Who was stung in the arm by a wasp.
When they asked, “Does it hurt?”
He replied, “No, it doesn’t;
I’m so glad it wasn’t a hornet.”

— W.S. Gilbert

Found Poetry

William Whewell was a giant of 19th-century science, but he may have missed his true calling. Someone pointed out that his classic Elementary Treatise on Mechanics contains the following poetic sentence:

And hence no force, however great,
can stretch a cord, however fine,
into a horizontal line
that shall be absolutely straight.

Then again, maybe not: Whewell quietly changed the wording in the next edition.

Max Beerbohm noticed a similar happenstance in the first edition of his collected works:

‘London: John Lane, The Bodley Head
New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.’
This plain announcement, nicely read,
Iambically runs.

Virgil’s Pizza

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Virgil’s Aeneid contains arguably the first written reference to pizza:

Their homely fare dispatch’d, the hungry band
Invade their trenchers next, and soon devour,
To mend the scanty meal, their cakes of flour.
Ascanius this observ’d, and smiling said:
“See, we devour the plates on which we fed.”

Cavendish Verse

An immortally bad poem by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623-1673):

What Is Liquid?

All that doth flow we cannot liquid name
Or else would fire and water be the same;
But that is liquid which is moist and wet
Fire that property can never get.
Then ’tis not cold that doth the fire put out
But ’tis the wet that makes it die, no doubt.

Samuel Pepys called it “the most ridiculous thing that ever was wrote.”