Archive for ‘Humour’

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

The Last Straw by Rudolph Chambers Lehmann

I sing the sofa! It had stood for years,
An invitation to benign repose,
A foe to all the fretful brood of fears,
Bidding the weary eye-lid sink and close.
Massive and deep and broad it was and bland—
In short the noblest sofa in the land.

You, too, my friend, my solid friend, I sing,
Whom on an afternoon I did behold
Eying—’twas after lunch—the cushioned thing,
And murmuring gently, “Here are realms of gold,
And I shall visit them,” you said, “and be
The sofa’s burden till it’s time for tea.”

“Let those who will go forth,” you said, “and dare,
Beyond the cluster of the little shops,
To strain their limbs and take the eager air,
Seeking the heights of Hedsor and its copse.
I shall abide and watch the far-off gleams
Of fairy beacons from the world of dreams.”

Then forth we fared, and you, no doubt, lay down,
An easy victim to the sofa’s charms,
Forgetting hopes of fame and past renown,
Lapped in those padded and alluring arms.
“How well,” you said, and veiled your heavy eyes,
“It slopes to suit me! This is Paradise.”

So we adventured to the topmost hill,
And, when the sunset shot the sky with red,
Homeward returned and found you taking still
Deep draughts of peace with pillows ‘neath your head.
“His sleep,” said one, “has been unduly long.”
Another said, “Let’s bring and beat the gong.”

“Gongs,” said a third and gazed with looks intent
At the full sofa, “are not adequate.
There fits some dread, some heavy, punishment
For one who sleeps with such a dreadful weight.
Behold with me,” he moaned, “a scene accurst.
The springs are broken and the sofa’s burst!”

Too true! Too true! Beneath you on the floor
Lay blent in ruin all the obscure things
That were the sofa’s strength, a scattered store
Of tacks and battens and protruded springs.
Through the rent ticking they had all been spilt,
Mute proofs and mournful of your weight and guilt.

And you? You slept as sweetly as a child,
And when you woke you recked not of your shame,
But babbled greetings, stretched yourself and smiled
From that eviscerated sofa’s frame,
Which, flawless erst, was now one mighty flaw
Through the addition of yourself as straw.

From: Lehmann, R C, The Vagabond and Other Poems from Punch, 1918, John Lane, The Bodley Head: London, p. 102.

Date: 1914

By: Rudolph Chambers Lehmann (1856-1929)

Sunday, 23 August 2020

To the Edinburgh Reviewers: Epistle the First by Alexander Boswell

Ye young Reviewers! listen to my strain!
Pardon my maxims, if they give you pain.
Accept the mild effusions of my pen;—
Ye are the ducklings, I the guardian hen.
I cannot follow—poor old anxious fool,—
But tremble, while you dabble in the pool.
Your early talents promise very fair,
Use them with prudence, cultivate with care.
Blast not my hopes, nor ridicule my fears;
Nor slight the wisdom of a length of years.

A knack at words you have, some fancy too;
But have you judgment, think you, to review ?-
You read I find,—then, like true men of spirit,
You needs must write, that folks may know your merit.
You pace the room, in fancy dealing terror,—
(There, I must hint, you’re rather in an error).
All are not d——d you happen to dislike;
All turn not marble whom your glances strike.—

When the fierce tyger rages o’er the land,
Then to the chase, ye hunters, in a band!
Or when the crocodile, with treacherous tears,
Seeks to decoy and lead us by the ears,
Then to your task, these ravening foes destroy,
We’ll shout your praises with tumultuous joy.
But where’s the honour, where the mighty feat,
To seize a victim that can only bleat?
Why tinge with red the unassuming cheek,
Or tear a linnet with a vulture’s beak?
Come, prythee do not vaunt, and puff, and swell,
That you can see what others see as well.
Toss not your heads about with happy grin,
Proud when you catch a straw, or find a pin.
Is he a lion who can gorge a rat?
Is he Goliath who can crush a gnat?

Treasure this maxim in your thoughts for ever:
“A Critic must be just, as well as clever.”
Cloud not another’s light, that you may shine,
And some politeness with your wit combine.
You must not be so rude, nor so conceited;
A woman surely should be gently treated.
Her poems, like her form, may catch your eye;
She seeks to please, but claims no ardent sigh.
If dress’d with taste, approach her and admire;
If tawdry, pray be silent and retire.
Don’t snatch her cap, and kick it in the air;
Don’t tear her gown, or thrust her from her chair;
Don’t, arms a-kimbo, labour to affront her,
Nor use her as you use poor Mrs. H- r.1

Let not a doctor’s wig your satire aid;
So poor an ally must your cause degrade.
Patterns you are of style, no doubt, of grace;
Then prythee, let us have each critic face;
To each essay prefix the learned head,
That lines and features may at once be read.
Thus he, whom now we deem or black or yellow,
May prove, if colour’d well, a pretty fellow.
If more than usual sharp his phiz, or fuller,
More clever we shall rate his works or duller.

Mild Doctor Langford2, little did’st thou ween,
When with a fair round face, and placid mein,
Amidst the kind restorers of the drown’d
You preach’d humanity to all around.

Ah ! little thought you that each trope and figure
Should pass the ordeal with so much rigour;
That what made Doctors Hawes and Lettsome weep
Should lull a critic, in the north, to sleep;
Who, though by nostrums and gay friends beset,
Upon my life, seems somewhat sleepy yet.

When the tir’d seaman in his hammock swings,
And dreams of rare fresh beef—ecstatic things!
With vacant grasp he snatches at a bit:
So our reviewer at a piece of wit:
Old jests of Joe his college letch provoke,
And, while he doses, struggles for a joke.

We love not petulance—it sickens quite—
‘Tis nauseous—and although you may be right,
More to our feelings than our judgment trusting,
We fain would have you wrong,—’tis so disgusting.

Touch not on topics you can’t understand:—
Why lug his Lordship3 forward sword in hand-
You read the title and a line or two,
And tell us so—Is this then to review?
Why ev’ry trifle to our notice bring,
Merely that you may say a clever thing?

Your Pegasus, we find, is but a colt:
We see him start, dash headlong on, and bolt
He kicks, o’erleaps all bounds, and scorns all check,
The reins of reason loose upon his neck.

Some plants of vigour deck your work, I own,
But flowering weeds are very thickly sown.
If each contributor had equal powers,
I should not grudge the many tedious hours,
Torn from the pastimes that become your age,
To plod for jests, and blot a heavy page.
To Mounier’s candid critic4 praise is due;
Make him your leader, keep him in your view.
Learn to be modest, in your wit be chaste,
Ye are not, yet, all Chesterfields5 in taste.

I move not forward, with Herculean tread .
And iron-mace, to break each Hydra head; .
An humble friend, I offer hints in season,
Watching with fervent hope your dawning reason.
Prosper your youthful efforts to be known!
Whose swelling fame is dearer than my own.

1. Review of Poems. By Mrs. Hunter [Anne Home Hunter (1742-1821)] in the first issue of the Edinburgh Review, 1802.
2. Review of 
Anniversary Sermon of the Royal Humane Society. By W. Langford, D.D. in the first issue of the Edinburgh Review, 1802.
3. William, Earl of Ancrum, afterwards Marquis of Lothian, whose observations in relation to proposed improvements in the arms and accoutrements of light cavalry had been inserted in the “Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.”
4. Francis Jeffrey (1773-1850) was one of the founders of the
Edinburgh Review and served as its editor from 1803 until 1829. He wrote a review of J. J. Mounier’s De l’influence des Philosophes..sur la Revolution de France in the magazine’s first issue which was thought exemplary and the benchmark for the Edinburgh Review’s future reviews and articles.
5. Earl of Chesterfield, Philip Stanhope (1694-1773), was considered an arbiter of taste.

From: Boswell, Alexander and Smith, Robert Howie (ed.), The Poetical Works of Sir Alexander Boswell, of Auchinleck, Baronet. Now first collected and edited, with memoir, 1871, Maurice Ogle & Company: Glasgow, pp. 126-131.

Date: 1803

By: Alexander Boswell (1775-1822)

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Lazy Bones by Jill McDougall

I never help around the house,
I never sweep or scrub
I never do the washing up
I never clean the tub.

I never put away my toys
I never make my bed,
When brooms are banged and pots are clanged
I’m hiding in the shed.

I never do a single chore,
I don’t! And that’s a fact.
I slink away and doze all day
Like any other cat.


Date: 2016

By: Jill McDougall (1951- )

Friday, 5 June 2020

Vegetarian Physics by David Clewell

The tofu that’s shown up overnight in this house is frightening
proof of the Law of Conservation: matter that simply cannot be
created or destroyed. Matter older than Newton,
who knew better than to taste it. Older than Lao-tzu,
who thought about it but finally chose harmonious non-interference.
I’d like to be philosophical too, see it as some kind of pale
inscrutable wisdom among hot dogs, the cold chicken,
the leftover deviled eggs, but I’m talking curdled
soybean milk. And I don’t have that kind of energy.

I’d rather not be part of the precariously metaphorical
wedding of modern physics and the ancient Eastern mysteries.
But still: whoever stashed the tofu in my Frigidaire
had better come back for it soon. I’m not Einstein
but I’m smart enough to know a bad idea when I see it
taking up space, biding its time.
Like so much that demands our imperfect attention
amid the particle roar of the world: going nowhere, fast.

From: Collins, Billy, Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, 2003, Random House Trade Paperbacks: New York, p. 158.

Date: 1994

By: David Clewell (1955-2020)

Friday, 29 May 2020

To My Beloved Vesta by Charles William Shirley Brooks

Miss, I’m a Pensive Protoplasm,
Born in some pre-historic chasm.
I, and my humble fellow-men
Are hydrogen, and oxygen,
And nitrogen, and carbon too,
And so is Jane, and so are you.
In stagnant water swarm our brothers
And sisters, but we’ve many others,
Among them animalculae,
And lizard’s eggs — and so, you see,
My darking Vesta, show no pride,
Nor turn coquettish head aside,
Our pedigrees, as thus made out,
Are no great things to boast about.
The only comfort seems to be
In this — philosophers agree
That how a Protoplasm’s made
Is mystery outside their trade.
And we are parts, so say the sages,
Of life come down from Long Past Ages.
So let us haste in Hymen’s bands
To join our protoplastic hands,
And spend our gay organic life
As happy man and happy wife.


Date: 1869

By: Charles William Shirley Brooks (29 May 2020)

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Meeting the Easter Bunny by Rowena Bastin Bennett

On Easter morn at early dawn
before the cocks were crowing
I met a bob-tail bunnykin
and asked where he was going.

“Tis in the house and out the house
a-tispy, tipsy-toeing,
Tis round the house and ’bout the house
a-lightly I am going.”

“But what is that of every hue
you carry in your basket?”
“Tis eggs of gold and eggs of blue;
I wonder that you ask it.

“Tis chocolate eggs and bonbon eggs
and eggs of red and gray,
For every child in every house
on bonny Easter day.”

He perked his ears and winked his eye
and twitched his little nose;
He shook his tail—what tail he had—
and stood up on his toes.

“I must be gone before the sun;
the east is growing gray;
Tis almost time for bells to chime.”—
So he hippety-hopped away.


Date: 1930

By: Rowena Bastin Bennett (1896-1981)

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Cupid Lost and Cried by Jacob Cats

The Child of Venus, wanton, wild,
The slyest rogue that ever smiled,
Had lately strayed—where? who shall guess?
His mother pines in sad distress;—

She calls the boy, she sighs, complains,
But still no news of Cupid gains:
For though her sorrow grows apace,
None knows the urchin’s resting-place.
She therefore vows the boy shall be
Cried o’er the country speedily:

“If there be any who can tell
Where little Cupid’s wont to dwell,
A fit reward he shall enjoy
If he track out the truant boy;
His recompense a fragrant kiss
From Venus’ ruby mouth of bliss;
But he who firmly holds the knave
Shall yet a sweeter guerdon have.
And lest ye should mistake the wight,
List to his form described aright:—
He is a little wayward thing
That’s panoplied on fiery wing;
Two pinions, like a swan, he carries,
And never for an instant tarries,
But now is here and now is there,
And couples many a curious pair.
His eyes like two bright stars are glowing,
And ever sidelong glances throwing:
He bears about a crafty bow,
And wounds before the wounded know:
His dart, though gilt to please the view,
Is dipp’d in bitter venom too:
His body, though ’tis bare to sight,
Has overthrown full many a knight:
His living torch, though mean and small,
Oft makes the hardiest warrior fall;
The highest dames with care invades,
And spares not e’en the tenderest maids;—
Nay, what is worse than all the rest,
He sometimes wounds his mother’s breast.

If such an urchin should be found,
Proclaim the joyous news around;
And should the boy attempt to fly,
O seize him, seize him daringly.
But if you have the child at last,
Be careful that you hold him fast,
Or else the roving bird he’ll play,
And vanish in thin air away;
And if he seem to pine and grieve,
You must not heed him— nor believe—
Nor trust his tears and feign’d distress,
His winning glance and bland caress;
But watch his cheek when dimples wreathe it,
And think that evil lurks beneath it;
For under his pretended smile
Are veil’d the deepest craft and guile.
If he a kiss should offer, shun
The proffer’d gift, or be undone;
His ruby lips thy heart would sentence
To brief delight, but long repentance:
But if the cunning boy will give
His dart to you—Oh! ne’er receive,
If you would hope for blissful years,
The present that so fair appears:
It is no pledge of love— but shame,
And danger and destroying flame.
Then, friends—to speak with brevity—
This wholesome warning take from me:
Let those who seize the wily ranger
Be on their guard ’gainst many a danger;
For, if they venture too securely,
Misfortunes will assail them surely;
And if they trust the boy in aught,
The catchers will themselves be caught.”

From: Bowring, John and van Dyk, Harry S., Batavian Anthology; or, Specimens of the Dutch Poets; with remarks on the poetical literature and language of the Netherlands, to the end of the Seventeenth century, 1824, Taylor and Hessey: London, pp. 74-77.

Date: 1625 (original in Dutch); 1824 (translation in English)

By: Jacob Cats (1577-1660)

Translated by: John Bowring (1792-1872) and Harry Stoe van Dyk (1798-1828)

Monday, 9 March 2020

To the Learned Gentleman Jacob Cats by Anna Roemers Visscher

When Phoebus yesterday had freed his weary steeds
From all the trappings of the race, and slowly eased
His head of burnished gold beneath the rim of sea,
Then I recalled I’d promised you some poetry.
I took my notebook, pen and ink, and duly put
My mind to writing. First the book kept falling shut.
The qull proved blunt, and when I tried to sharpen it,
The penknife slipped and gave my hand a painful cut.
The paper blotted through – the quality of ink
Was poor. I had no way to trim my candlewick,
No snuffers that would help me keep its low flame fed.
Death’s sister then appeared and dragged me off to bed.
And so, my learned friend, it was for my own good
That I should fail; for soon Dissatisfaction stood
Before me in a dream and showed me that my verse
Was crippled, limp and lame. Pale Envy made things worse:
‘You think you’re Homer!’ came her mocking sneer.
Black Slander followed, calling out for all to hear:
‘Your readers will be bored!’ At last Good Sense appeared
And said: ‘Just keep those lines you wrote well hid from view,
For then no one will envy, mock or slander you.’

From: van Gemert, Lia; Joldersma, Hermina; van Marion, Olga; van der Poel, Dieuwke; and Schenkeveld-van der Dussen, Riet (eds.), Women’s Writing from the Low Countries 1200-1875: A Bilingual Anthology, 2010, Amsterdam University Press: Amsterdam, p. 239.

Date: 1623 (original in Dutch); 2010 (translation in English)

By: Anna Roemers Visscher (1584-1652)

Translated by: Myra Heerspink Scholz (19??- )

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Holy Wars by Robert Schechter

Do even numbers, when they pray,
give thanks unto their God
that unlike all their neighbors they
were not created odd?

If so, is there a second God
some integers believe in
to whom the reverential odd
give thanks that they’re not even?


Date: 2014

By: Robert Schechter (19??- )

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Three Things by Baltasar del Alcázar

There are three things my captive heart
forever dotes upon:
beautiful Inez, smoked ham,
and eggplant parmesan.

Oh lovers, it was sweet Inez
whose power over me
was such I actually despised
whatever was not she.

She made me sense­less for a year.
In truth, I was far gone,
until one day she served me ham
and eggplant parmesan.

Inez was first to win my heart,
but now I’d be hard-pressed
to choose among the three of them
the one I love the best.

In taste, proportion, and in weight,
I’ve nothing to go on:
I love Inez, I love smoked ham,
and eggplant parmesan.

Inez can boast of beauty,
the ham of Southern Spain,
the tender aubergine can boast
of Spanish soil and rain.

The competition is so close,
no winner can be drawn.
They all are one. Inez, the ham,
the eggplant parmesan.

At least, now that she knows that I
love other things as deeply,
Inez might sell me favors much
more often and more cheaply,

since there is now a counterweight
for her to reckon on:
a luscious slab of Spanish ham
and eggplant parmesan.


Date: (original in Spanish); 2017 (translation in English)

By: Baltasar del Alcázar (1530-1606)

Translated by: Robert Schechter (19??- )