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

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Supreme_pizza.jpg

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.”

More Bad Poetry

More bad poetry, from J.B. Smiley’s A Basket of Chips (1888):

The north winds are still and the blizzards at rest,
All in the beautiful spring.
The dear little robins are building their nests,
All in the beautiful spring.
The tramp appears and for lodging begs,
The old hen setteth on turkey eggs,
And the horse has scratches in all four legs,
All in the beautiful spring.
Kalamazoo
On the outskirts are celery marshes
Which only a few years ago
Were as wet as a drugstore in Kansas
And as worthless as marshes could grow,
Well some genius bethought him to drain them
And to add in a short year or two
About eighty-five thousand dollars
To the income of Kalamazoo.
The Michigan Insane Asylum
Is up on the top of the hill,
And some irresponsible crazies
Meander around there at will,
And they frequently talk to a stranger,
And they sometimes escape, it is true,
But the folks are not all of them crazy
Who hail from Kalamazoo.

Bravo!

Many people consider this the worst poem ever written in the English language — “A Tragedy,” by the Belgian Pre-Raphaelite poet Theophilus Marzials. It was published in 1874, in his collection The Gallery of Pigeons:

Death!
Plop.
The barges down in the river flop.
Flop, plop.
Above, beneath.
From the slimy branches the grey drips drop,
As they scraggle black on the thin grey sky,
Where the black cloud rack-hackles drizzle and fly
To the oozy waters, that lounge and flop
On the black scrag piles, where the loose cords plop,
As the raw wind whines in the thin tree-top.
Plop, plop.
And scudding by
The boatmen call out hoy! and hey!
All is running water and sky,
And my head shrieks — “Stop,”
And my heart shrieks — “Die.”
* * * * *
My thought is running out of my head;
My love is running out of my heart,
My soul runs after, and leaves me as dead,
For my life runs after to catch them — and fled
They all are every one! — and I stand, and start,
At the water that oozes up, plop and plop,
On the barges that flop
And dizzy me dead.
I might reel and drop.
Plop.
Dead.
And the shrill wind whines in the thin tree-top
Flop, plop.
* * * * *
A curse on him.
Ugh! yet I knew — I knew —
If a woman is false can a friend be true?
It was only a lie from beginning to end —
My Devil — My “Friend”
I had trusted the whole of my living to!
Ugh; and I knew!
Ugh!
So what do I care,
And my head is empty as air —
I can do,
I can dare,
(Plop, plop
The barges flop
Drip drop.)
I can dare! I can dare!
And let myself all run away with my head
And stop.
Drop.
Dead.
Plop, flop.
Plop.

Reportedly Marzials once loudly asked a hushed library, “Am I not the darling of the British Museum Reading Room?” The response is not recorded.

“Some Geese”

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Schopenhauer.jpg

Every child who has the use
Of his senses knows a goose.
See them underneath the tree
Gather round the goose-girl’s knee,
While she reads them by the hour
From the works of Schopenhauer.
How patiently the geese attend!
But do they really comprehend
What Schopenhauer’s driving at?
Oh, not at all; but what of that?
Neither do I; neither does she;
And, for that matter, nor does he.

— Oliver Herford

Gelett Burgess

I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one.

That’s “Purple Cow,” written in 1895 by Berkeley drafting instructor Gelett Burgess. It grew so popular that it began to haunt him; eventually he wrote “Confession: And a Portrait Too, Upon a Background That I Rue”:

Ah yes, I wrote the Purple Cow,
I’m sorry now I wrote it.
But I can tell you anyhow,
I’ll kill you if you quote it.

Uffia

http://sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=view&id=272246

When sporgles spanned the floreate mead
And cogwogs gleet upon the lea,
Uffia gopped to meet her love
Who smeeged upon the equat sea.
Dately she walked aglost the sand;
The boreal wind seet in her face;
The moggling waves yalped at her feet;
Pangwangling was her pace.

— Harriet R. White

The Python

http://sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=view&id=302367

A python I should not advise,
It needs a doctor for its eyes,
And has the measles yearly.
However, if you feel inclined
To get one (to improve your mind,
And not from fashion merely),
Allow no music near its cage;
And when it flies into a rage
Chastise it most severely.
I had an Aunt in Yucatan
Who bought a Python from a man
And kept it for a pet.
She died because she never knew
These simple little rules and few;–
The snake is living yet.

— Hilaire Belloc