“To a Baby Born Without Limbs”

From Kingsley Amis’ 1966 novel The Anti-Death League:

This is just to show you whose boss around here.
It’ll keep you on your toes, so to speak,
Make you put your best foot forward, so to speak,
And give you something to turn your hand to, so to speak.
You can face up to it like a man,
Or snivvle and blubber like a baby.
That’s up to you. Nothing to do with Me.
If you take it in the right spirit,
You can have a bloody marvelous life,
With the great rewards courage brings,
And the beauty of accepting your LOT.
And think how much good it’ll do your Mum and Dad,
And your Grans and Gramps and the rest of the shower,
To be stopped being complacent.
Make sure they baptise you, though,
In case some murdering bastard
Decides to put you away quick,
Which would send you straight to LIMB-O, ha ha ha.
But just a word in your ear, if you’ve got one.
Mind you DO take this in the right spirit,
And keep a civil tongue in your head about Me.
Because if you DON’T,
I’ve got plenty of other stuff up My sleeve,
Such as Leukemia and polio,
(Which incidentally your welcome to any time,
Whatever spirit you take this in.)
I’ve given you one love-pat, right?
You don’t want another.
So watch it, Jack.

Misspellings in original. In his memoir Experience, Martin Amis says Yevgeny Yevtushenko asked Kingsley in 1962, “You atheist?” He answered, “Well yes, but it’s more that I hate him.”

Orthography

There once was a ,cal fellow,
Who grew .ically mellow;
With a — he was gone
To the town of :
To write for a sheet that was yellow.

She was wooed by a handsome young Dr.,
Who one day in his arms tightly lr.;
But straightway he swore
He would do so no more,
Which the same, it was plain, greatly shr.

A boy at Sault Ste. Marie
Said, “To spell I will not agree
Till they learn to spell ‘Soo’
Without any u
Or an a or an l or a t.”

There was an old maid from Duquesne
Who the rigor of mortis did fuesne;
She came to with a shout,
Saying: “Please let me out;
This coffin will drive me insuesne.”

— Stanton Vaughn, ed., Limerick Lyrics, 1904

“A Distressing Blunder”

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Robert_Browning._Photograph_by_Julia_Margaret_Cameron,_1865._Wellcome_V0027592.jpg

Robert Browning’s 1841 verse drama Pippa Passes, source of the famous lines “God’s in His heaven — All’s right with the world,” ends on a strange note:

But at night, brother Howlet, far over the woods,
Toll the world to thy chantry;
Sing to the bats’ sleek sisterhoods
Full complines with gallantry:
Then, owls and bats, cowls and twats,
Monks and nuns, in a cloister’s moods,
Adjourn to the oak-stump pantry!

When the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary inquired delicately how Browning had settled on the word twats, the poet indicated a 1660 rhyme called “Vanity of Vanities”: “They talk’t of his having a Cardinall’s Hat/They’d send him as soon an Old Nun’s Twat.” There the word had been intended as a dismissive insult, but Browning had taken it seriously. Today’s OED still cites Browning’s usage, noting that he’d used the word “erroneously” “under the impression that it denoted some part of a nun’s attire.”

Editor James A.H. Murray later complained, “Browning constantly used words without regard to their proper meaning. He has added greatly to the difficulties of the Dictionary.”

An Attorney’s Night Before Christmas

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:F._O._C._Darley_illustration_-_A_Visit_From_Saint_Nicholas_-_1862_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_17382.jpg

WHEREAS, on an occasion immediately preceding the Nativity Festival, throughout a certain dwelling unit, quiet descended, in which would be heard no disturbance, not even the sound emitted by a diminutive rodent related to, and in form resembling, a rat; and

WHEREAS, the offspring of the occupants had affixed their tubular, closely knit coverings for the nether limbs to the flue of the fireplace in the expectation that a personage known as St. Nicholas would arrive; and

WHEREAS, said offspring had become somnolent and were entertaining nocturnal hallucinations re: saccharine-flavored fruit; and

WHEREAS, the adult male of the family, et ux, attired in proper headgear, had also become quiescent in anticipation of nocturnal inertia; and

WHEREAS, a distraction on the snowy acreage outside aroused the owner to investigate; and

WHEREAS, he perceived in a most unbelieving manner a vehicle propelled by eight domesticated quadrupeds of a species found in arctic regions; and

WHEREAS, a most odd rotund gentleman was entreating the aforesaid animals by their appellations, as follows: “Your immediate cooperation is requested, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen, and collective action by you will be appreciated, Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen”; and

WHEREAS, subsequent to the above, there occured a swift descent to the hearth by the aforementioned gentleman, where he proceeded to deposit gratuities in the aforementioned tubular coverings,

NOW, THEREFORE, be ye advised: That upon completion of these acts, and upon his return to his original point of departure, he proclaimed a felicitation of the type prevalent and suitable to these occasions, i.e., “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

(I’m not sure who came up with this — I’ve seen several versions.)

“By Deputy”

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shakespeare_engraving_1787.jpg

As Shakespeare couldn’t write his plays
(If Mrs. Gallup’s not mistaken),
I think how wise in many ways
He was to have them done by Bacon;
They might have moldered on the shelf,
Mere minor dramas (and he knew it!),
If he had written them himself
Instead of letting Bacon do it.

And if it’s true, as Brown and Smith
In many learned tomes have stated,
That Homer was an idle myth,
He ought to be congratulated,
Since thus, evading birth, he rose
For men to worship at a distance;
He might have penned inferior prose
Had he achieved a real existence.

To him and Shakespeare men agree
In making very nice allusions;
But no one thinks of praising me,
For I compose my own effusions;
As others wrote their works divine
And they immortal thus today are,
Perhaps had someone written mine
I might have been as great as they are.

— Arthur St. John Adcock

“What’ll Be the Title?”

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NASA_Aldabra_Atoll.jpg

O to scuttle from the battle and to settle on an atoll far from brutal mortal neath a wattle portal!
To keep little mottled cattle and to whittle down one’s chattels and not hurtle after brittle yellow metal!
To listen, non-committal, to the anecdotal local tittle-tattle on a settle round the kettle,
Never startled by a rattle more than betel-nuts a-prattle or the myrtle-petals’ subtle throttled chortle!
But I’ll bet that what’ll happen if you footle round an atoll is you’ll get in rotten fettle living totally on turtle, nettles, cuttle-fish or beetles, victuals fatal to the natal élan-vital,
And hit the bottle.
I guess I’d settle
For somewhere ethical and practical like Bootle.

— Justin Richardson

Double Duty

What’s unusual about this limerick?

There was a young lady of Riga,
Who went for a ride on a tiger,
They came back from their ride
With the lady inside
And a smile on the face of the tiger.

It remains a limerick when translated into Latin:

Puella Rigensis ridebat,
Quam tigris in tergo vehebat,
Externa profecta
Interna revecta,
Risusque cum tigre manebat.

Ronald Knox found that the same is true of this one:

There was a young man of Devizes,
Whose ears were of different sizes;
The one that was small
Was no use at all,
But the other won several prizes.

Visas erat; huic geminarum
Dispar modus auricularum:
Minor haec nihili;
Palma triplici
Iam fecerat altera clarum.

“Quiet Fun”

My son Augustus, in the street, one day,
Was feeling quite exceptionally merry.
A stranger asked him: “Can you tell me, pray,
The quickest way to Brompton Cemetery?”
“The quickest way? You bet I can!” said Gus,
And pushed the fellow underneath a bus.

— Harry Graham

Sound Rhymes

Peculiarly English limericks:

There was a young lady named Wemyss,
Who, it semyss, was troubled with dremyss.
She would wake in the night,
And, in terrible fright,
Shake the bemyss of the house with her scremyss.

A pretty school-mistress named Beauchamp,
Said, “These awful boys, how shall I teauchamp?
For they will not behave,
Although I look grave
And with tears in my eyes I beseauchamp.”

There was a professor of Caius
Who measured six feet round the knaius;
He went down to Harwich
Nineteen in a carwich,
And found it a terrible squaius.

There lived a young lady named Geoghegan,
The name is apparently Peoghegan,
She’ll be changing it solquhoun
For that of Colquhoun,
But the date is at present a veoghegan. (W.S. Webb)

An author, by name Gilbert St. John,
Remarked to me once, “Honest t. John,
You really can’t quote
That story I wrote:
My copyright you are infrt. John.” (P.L. Mannock)

See This Sceptred Isle.

Six by Six

The sestina is an unusual form of poetry: Each of its six stanzas uses the same six line-ending words, rotated according to a set pattern:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sestina_system_alt.svg

This intriguingly insistent form has appealed to verse writers since the 12th century. “In a good sestina the poet has six words, six images, six ideas so urgently in his mind that he cannot get away from them,” wrote John Frederick Nims. “He wants to test them in all possible combinations and come to a conclusion about their relationship.”

But the pattern of permutation also intrigues mathematicians. “It is a mathematical property of any permutation of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 that when it is repeatedly combined with itself, all of the numbers will return to their original positions after six or fewer iterations,” writes Robert Tubbs in Mathematics in Twentieth-Century Literature and Art. “The question is, are there other permutations of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 that have the property that after six iterations, and not before, all of the numbers will be back in their original positions? The answer is that there are many — there are 120 such permutations. We will probably never know the aesthetic reason poets settled on the above permutation to structure the classical sestina.”

In 1986 the members of the French experimental writers’ workshop Oulipo began to apply group theory to plumb the possibilities of the form, and in 2007 Pacific University mathematician Caleb Emmons offered the ultimate hat trick: A mathematical proof about sestinas written as a sestina:

emmons sestina

Bonus: When not doing math and poetry, Emmons runs the Journal of Universal Rejection, which promises to reject every paper it receives: “Reprobatio certa, hora incerta.”

(Caleb Emmons, “S|{e,s,t,i,n,a}|“, The Mathematical Intelligencer, December 2007.) (Thanks, Robert and Kat.)