Comic Verse and Worse

Some of my favourite poems send up Poetry, I particularly like Ogden Nash's witty comments, in strained verse, on the human condition.
Click here  for formal poetry


H. G.

Walter de la Mare

Alfred Edward Housman

Ogden Nash

The Pig

It was an evening in November,
As I very well remember,
I was strolling down the street in drunken pride,
But my knees were all a-flutter,
And I landed in the gutter
And a pig came up and lay down by my side.

Yes, I lay there in the gutter
Thinking thoughts I could not utter,
When a colleen passing by did softly say
'You can tell a man who boozes
By the company he chooses' —
And the pig got up and slowly walked away.


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Don't Ask For Bread

A wretched man walked up and down
To buy his dinner in the town.

At last he found a wretched place
And entered in with modest grace,

Took off his coat, took off his hat,
And wiped his feet upon the mat,

Took out his purse to count his pence
And found he had but two half-cents.

The bill of fare, he scanned it through
To see what two half-cents would do.

The only item of them all
For two half-cents was one fishball.

So to the waiter he did call
And gently whispered: One fishball.

The waiter bellowed down the hall:

The diners looked both one and all
To see who wanted one fishball.

The wretched man, all ill at ease
Said: A little bread, sir, if you please.

The waiter bellowed down the hall:

The wretched man, he felt so small,
He quickly left the dining hall.

The wretched man, he went outside
And shot himself until he died.

This is the moral of it all,
Don't ask for bread with one fishball.


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A Macaronic Poem

"The Kaiser spoke at length with the Baron de Haulleville, Director of the Congo Museum, in French, German, and English."— Newspaper report, 1910.
Guten Morgen, mon ami,
     Heute ist es schönes Wetter!
Charmé de vous voir içi!
     Never saw you looking better!

Hoffentlich que la Baronne,
     So entzückend et so pleasant,
Ist in Brussels cet automne:
     Combien wünsch'ich she were present!

Unt die Kinder, how are they?
     Ont-ils eu la rougeole lately?
Sind sie avec vous today?
     J'aimerais les treffen greatly.

Ich muss chercher mon hôtel.
     What a charming Schwätzerei, Sir!
Lebe wohl! adieu! Farewell!
     Vive le Congo! Hoch dem Kaiser!

(H. G.)

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Sam's Three Wishes:Or Life's Little Whirligig

I'm thinking and thinking', said old Sam Shore,
'Twere somebody knocking I heard at the door.'

From the clock popped the cuckoo and cuckooed out eight,
As there in his chair he wondering sate ...
'There's no-one I know on would come so late,
A-clicking the latch of an empty house
With nobbut inside 'un but me and a mouse....
Maybe a-waking in sleep I be,
And 'twere out of a dream came that tapping to me.'
At length he cautiously rose, and went,
And with thumb upon latch awhile listening bent,
Then slowly drew open the door. And behold!
There stood a Fairy — all green and gold,
Mantled up warm against dark and cold,
And smiling up into his candle shine,
Lips like wax, and cheeks like wine,
As saucy and winsome a thing to see
As are linden buds on a linden tree.

Stock-still in the doorway stood simple Sam,
A-ducking his head, with 'Good-e'en to 'ee, Ma'am.'

Dame Fairy she nods, and cries clear and sweet,
'Tis a very good-e'en, sir, when such folks meet.
I know thee, Sam, though thou wist not of me,
And I come in late gloaming to speak with thee;
Though eyes do dazzle at glint of your rush,
All under this pretty green fuchsia bush.'

Sam ducked once more, smiling simple and slow.
Like the warbling of birds her words did flow,
And she laughed, very merry, to see how true
Shone the old man's kindness his courtesy through.
And she nodded her head, and the stars on high
Sparkled down on her smallness from out of the sky.

'A friend is a friend, Sam, and wonderful pleasant,
And I'm come for old sake's sake to bring thee a present.
Three wishes, three wishes are thine, Sam Shore,
Just three wishes — and wish no more.
All for because, ruby-ripe to see,
The pixy-pears burn in yon hawthorn tree,
And the old milch cow, wheresoever she goes,
Never crops over the fairy-knowes.
Ay, Sam, thou art old and thy house is lone,
But there's Potencies round thee, and here is one!'

Poor Sam, he stared: and the stars o'erhead
A shimmering light on the elm-tops shed.
Like rilling of water her voice rang sweet,
And the night-wind sighed at the sound of it.
He frowned — glanced back at the empty grate,
And shook very slowly his grey old pate:
'Three wishes, my dear! Why, I scarcely knows
Which be my crany and which my toes.
But I thank'ee, Ma'am, kindly, and this I'd say,
That the night of your passing is Michaelmas Day;
And if it were company come on a sudden,
Why, I'd ax for a fat goose to fry in the oven!'

And lo, and forsooth! as the words he was uttering,
A rich puff of air set his candle a-guttering,
And there rose in the kitchen a sizzling and sputtering,
With a crackling of sparks and of flames a great fluttering,
And — of which there could not be two opinions —
A smoking-hot savour of sage and onions.
Beam, wall and flagstones the kitchen was lit,
Every dark corner and cranny of it,
With the blaze from the hearthstone. Copper and brass
Winked back the winking of platter and glass.
And a wonderful squeaking of mice went up
At the smell of a Michaelmas supper to sup —
Unctuous odours that wreathed and swirled
Where'er frisked a whisker or mouse-tail twirled,
While out of the chimney up into the night
That ne'er-to-be-snuffed-too-much smoke took flight.

That's one,' says the Fairy, finger on thumb,
'So now, Mister Sam, there's but two to come!'
She leaned her head sidelong; she lifted her chin,
With a twinkling of eye from the radiance within.
Poor Sam stood stounded: he says, says he,
I wish my old Mother was back with me,
For if there was one thing she couldn't refuse
'Twas a sweet thick slice from the breast of a goose.'
But his cheek grew stiff, and his eyes stared bright,
For there, on her stick, pushing out of the night,
Tap-tapping along, herself and no other,
Came who but the shape of his dear old Mother!
Straight into the kitchen she hastened and went,
Her breath coming quick as if all but spent,
Why, Sam,' says she, the bird be turning,
For my nose tells I that the skin's a-burning!'
And down at the oven the ghost of her sat,
And basted the goose with the boiling fat.

Oho,' cries the Fairy, sweet and small,
Another wish gone will leave nothing at all.'
And Sam sighs, 'Bless 'ee, Ma'am, keep the other,
There's nowt that I want now I have my Mother.'
But the Fairy laughs softly, and says, says she,
There's one wish left, Sam, I promised 'ee three.
Hasten thy wits, the hour creeps on,
There's calling afield, and I'm soon to be gone.
Soon as haps midnight the cocks will crow,
And me to the gathering and feasting must go.'

Sam gazed at his Mother — withered and wan,
The rose in her cheek, her bright hair, gone,
And her poor old back bent double with years —
And he scarce could speak for the salt, salt tears.
'Well, well,' he says, 'I'm unspeakably glad:
But — it bain't quite the same as when I was a lad.
There's joy and there's joy, Ma'am, but to tell 'ee the truth
There's none can compare with the joy of one's youth.
And if it was possible, how could I choose
But be back in boy's breeches to eat the goose;
And all the old things — and my Mother the most,
To shine again real as my own gatepost.
What wouldn't I give, too, to see again wag
The dumpity tail of my old dog, Shag!
Your kindness, Ma'am: but all wishing was vain
Unless us can both be young again.'

A shrill, faint laughter from nowhere came ...
Empty the dark in the candle-flame ...

And there stood our Sam, about four foot high,
Snub nose, shock hair, and round blue eye.
Breeches and braces, and coat of him too,
Shirt on his back, and each clodhopping shoe
Had shrunk to a nicety — button and hem
To fit the small Sammie tucked up into them.
There was his Mother, too; smooth, clear cheek,
Lips as sooth as blackbird's beak,
Pretty arched eyebrows, the daintiest nose —
While the smoke of the baking deliciously rose.

'Come, Sammie,' she cries, 'your old Mammikin's joy,
Climb up on your stool, supper's ready, my boy.
Bring in the candle, and shut out the night;
There's goose, baked taties and cabbage to bite.
Why, bless the wee lamb, he's all shiver and shake,
And you'd think from the look of him scarcely awake!
If 'ee glour wi' those eyes, Sam, so dark and round,
The elves will away with 'ee, I'll be bound!'

So Sam and his mother by wishes three
Were made just as happy as happy can be.
And there with a bumpity tail to wag —
Sat laughing, with tongue out, their old dog, Shag.
To clatter of platter, bones, giblets, and juice,
Between them they ate up the whole of the goose.

But time is a river for ever in flow,
The weeks went by as the weeks must go.
Soon fifty-two to a year did grow.
The long years passed, one after another,
Making older and older our Sam and his Mother;
And, alas and alack, with nine of them gone,
Poor Shag lay asleep again under a stone.
And a sorrowful dread would sometimes creep
Into Sam's dreams, as he lay asleep,
That his Mother was lost, and away he'd fare,
Calling her, calling her, everywhere,
In dark, in rain, by roads unknown,
Under echoing hills, and alone, alone.
What bliss in the morning to wake and see
The sun shining green in the linden tree,
And out of that dream's dark shadowiness
To slip in on his Mother and give her a kiss,
Then go whistling off in the dew to hear
The thrushes all mocking him, sweet and clear.

Still, moon after moon from heaven above
Shone on Mother and son, and made light of love.
Her roses faded, her pretty brown hair
Had sorrowful grey in it everywhere.
And at last she died, and was laid to rest,
Her tired hands crossed on her shrunken breast.
And Sam, now lonely, lived on and on
Till most of his workaday life seemed gone.

Yet spring came again with its green and blue,
And presently summer's wild roses too,
Pinks, Sweet William, and sops-in-wine,
Blackberry, lavender, eglantine.
And when these had blossomed and gone their way,
'Twas apples, and daisies and Michaelmas Day —
Yes, spider-webs, dew, and haws in the may,
And seraphs singing in Michaelmas Day.

Sam worked all morning and couldn't get rest
For a kind of feeling of grief in his breast.
And yet, not grief, but something more
Like the thought that what happens has happened before,
He fed the chickens, he fed the sow,
On a three-legged stool sate down to the cow,
With a pail 'twixt his legs in the green of the meadow,
Under the elm trees' lengthening shadow;
And woke at last with a smile and a sigh
To find he had milked his poor Jingo dry.

As dusk set in, the birds did seem
To be calling and whistling from out of a dream.
He chopped up kindling, shut up his shed,
In a bucket of well-water soused his head
To freshen his eyes up a little and make
The drowsy old wits of him wider awake.
As neat as a womanless creature is able
He swept up his hearthstone, and laid the table.
And then o'er his platter and mug, if you please,
Sate gloomily gooming at loaf and cheese —
Gooming and gooming as if the mere sight
Of his victuals could satisfy appetite!
And the longer and longer he looked at them,
The slimmer slimmed upward his candle flame,
Blue in the air. And when squeaked a mouse
'Twas loud as a trump in the hush of the house.
Then, sudden, a soft little wind puffed by,
'Twixt the thick-thatched roof and the star-sown sky;
And died ... And then
That deep, dead, wonderful silence again.

Then — soft as a rattle counting her seeds
In the midst of a tangle of withered-up weeds —
Came a faint, faint knocking, a rustle like silk,
And a breath at the keyhole as soft as milk —
Still as the flit of a moth. And then ...
That infinitesimal knocking again.

Sam lifted his chin from his fists. He listened.
His wandering eyes in the candle glistened.
Then slowly, slowly, rolled round by degrees —
And there sat a mouse on the top of his cheese.
He stared at this Midget, and it at him,
Over the edge of his mug's round rim,
And — as if it were Christian — he says, Did 'ee hear
A faint little tap-tap-tap-tapping, my dear?
You was at supper, and me in a maze,
'Tis dark for a caller in these lone days,
There's nowt in the larder. We're both of us old,
And all of my loved ones sleep under the mould,
And yet — and — yet as I've told 'ee before ...'

But if Sam's story you'd read to the end,
Turn back to page
I, and press onward, dear friend;
Yes, if you would stave the last note of this song,
Turn back to page primus, and warble along!
For all sober records of life (come to write 'em),
Are bound to continue — well — ad infinitum!

(Walter de la Mare)

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The Shades of Night Were Falling Fast

The shades of night were falling fast
  And the rain was falling faster,
When through an Alpine village passed
  An Alpine village pastor;
A youth who bore mid snow and ice
  A bird that wouldn't chirrup,
And a banner, with the strange device —
  'Mrs. Winslow's soothing syrup.'

'Beware the pass,' the old man said,
  'My bold and desperate fellah;
Dark lowers the tempest overhead,
  And you'll want your umberella;
And the roaring torrent is deep and wide —
  You may hear how it washes.'
But still that clarion voice replied:
  'I've got my old goloshes.'

'Oh stay,' the maiden said, 'and rest
  (For the wind blows from the nor'ward)
Thy weary head upon my breast —
  And please don't think me forward.'
A tear stood in his bright blue eye
  And gladly he would have tarried;
But still he answered with a sigh:
  'Unhappily I'm married.'

(A. E. Housman)

On Devotional Poems

I shall be interested to see Devotional Poems. Perhaps I myself may write a Hymn-book for use in the Salvation Army:
There is Hallelujah Hanna
  Walking backward down the lane,
And I hear the loud Hosanna
  Of regenerated Jane;
And Lieutenent Isabella
  In the centre of them comes,
Dealing blows with her umbrella
  On the trumpets and the drums.
Or again:
'Hallelujah!' was the only observation
That escaped Lieutenenat-Colonel Mary Jane,
When she tumbled off the platform in the station,
And was cut in little pieces by the train.
  Mary Jane, the train is through yer:
  Hallelujah, Hallelujah!
We will gather up the fragments that remain.
It seems to come quite easy.
(A. E. Housman)

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Ogden Nash  An outside link to further poems and his biography.

Very Like A Whale

One thing that literature would be greatly the better for
Would be more restricted employment by authors of simile and metaphor.
Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons, or Celts,
Can't seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to go out of their way to say that it is like something else.
What does it mean when we are told
That the Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?
In the first place, George Gordon Byron had had enough experience
To know that it probably wasn't just one Assyrian, it was a lot of Assyrians.
However, as too many arguments are apt to induce apoplexy and thus hinder longevity,
We'll let it pass as one Assyrian for the sake of brevity.
Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold.
Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a wolf on the fold?
In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy there are a great many things,
But I don't imagine that among them there is a wolf with purple and gold cohorts or purple and gold anythings.
No, no, Lord Byron, before I'll believe that this Assyrian was actually like a wolf I must have some kind of proof;
Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red mouth and big white teeth and did he say Woof woof?
Frankly I think it very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say, at the very most,
Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian cohorts about to destroy the Hebrew host.
But that wasn't enough for Lord Byron, oh dear me no, he had to invent a lot of figures of speech and then interpolate them,
With the result that whenever you mention Old Testament soldiers to people they say O yes, they're the ones that a lot of wolves dressed up in gold and purple ate them.
That's the kind of thing that's being done all the time by poets, from Homer to Tennyson;
There always comparing ladies to lillies and veal to venison,
And they always say things like that the snow is a white blanket after a winter storm.
Oh it is, is it, all right then, you sleep under a six-inch blanket of snow and I'll sleep under a half inch blanket of unpoetical blanket material and we'll see which one keeps warm,
And after that maybe you'll begin to comprehend dimly
What I mean by too much metaphor and simile.

(Ogden Nash)

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When You Say That, Smile! or All Right Then, Don't Smile

When the odds are long,
And the game goes wrong,
Does your joie de vivre diminish?
Have you little delight
In an uphill fight?
Do you wince at a Garrison finish?
Then here's my hand, my trusty partner!
I've always wanted a good disheartner.

Oh, things are frequently what they seem,
And this is wisdom's crown:
Only the game fish swims upstream,
But the sensible fish swims down.

Well, how is your pulse
When a cad insults
The lady you're cavaliering?
Are you willing to wait
To retaliate
Till the cad is out of hearing?
Then here's my hand, my trusty companion,
And may neither one of us fall in the canyon.

For things are frequently what they seem,
And this is wisdom's crown:
Only the game fish swims upstream,
But the sensible fish swims down.

(Ogden Nash)

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