Nonsense Verse, &c. (1880)

THE French had at one time a favourite and ingenious kind of versification called Amphigourie, or Nonsense Verse. The word is derived from two Greek words signifying about and circle, and the object was to give verses the appearance of good sense and fine poetry, while in reality meaning nothing whatever! The primary example given is richly-rhymed, elegantly expressed, but actual nonsense ! It is taken from Disraeli’s “Curiosities of Literature.”


Qu’il est heureux de se défendre
Quand le coeur ne s’est pas rendu!
Mais qu’il est fâcheux de se rendre
Quand le bonheur est suspendu!
Par un discours sans suite et tendre,
Égarez un coeur eperdu;
Souvent par un mal-entendu
L’amant adroit se fait entendre.


How happy to defend our heart,
When Love has never thrown a dart!
But ah! unhappy when it bends,
If pleasure her soft bliss suspends!
Sweet in a wild disordered strain,
A lost and wandering heart to gain,
Oft in mistaken language wooed
The skilful lover’s understood.

The preceding was sung by the celebrated Madame Tencin one evening to Fontenelle, and they bore such a resemblance to meaning that Fontenelle requested they should be repeated. “Do you not perceive,” said the witty authoress, “that they are nonsense?” “Ah,” replied the poet, sarcastically, “they are so much like the fine verses I have heard here, that it is not surprising I should be for once mistaken!”

Pope furnishes the best English specimen of this kind of poetry — the “Song by a Person of Quality,” and it is believed to have been written to ridicule certain namby-pamby poets of his day. The lines are as follow:


Fluttering spread thy purple pinions,
Gentle Cupid, o’er my heart,
l slave in thy dominions,
Nature must give way to art.

Mild Arcadians, ever blooming,
Nightly nodding o’er your flocks,
See my weary days consuming,
All beneath yon flowery rocks.

Thus the Cyprian goddess weeping,
Mourned Adonis, darling youth:
Him the boar, in silence creeping,
Gored with unrelenting tooth.

Cynthia, tune harmonious numbers;
Fair Discretion, tune the lyre;
Soothe my ever-waking slumbers;
Bright Apollo, lend thy choir.

Gloomy Pluto, king of terrors,
Armed in adamantine chains,
Lead me to the crystal mirrors,
Watering soft Elysian plains.

Mournful Cypress, verdant willow,
Gilding my Aurelia’s brows,
Morpheus, hovering o’er my pillow,
Hear me pay my dying vows.

Melancholy, smooth Maeander,
Swiftly purling in a round,
On thy margin lovers wander
With thy flowery chaplets crowned.

Thus when Philomela, drooping,
Softly seeks her silent mate,
So the bird of Juno stooping;
Melody resigns to fate.

Gilbert Wakefield, Pope’s talented commentator, actually misapprehended the nature of the above composition, and wrote some pages of his Commentary to support his assertion that the poem was disjointed and obscure!{1}

Examples of true Nonsense Verse are not numerous, but we find the following two in the pages of “Fun.”


Once—but no matter when—
There lived—no matter where—
A man, whose name—but then
I need not that declare.

He—well, he had been born,
And so he was alive;
His age—I details scorn—
Was somethingty and five.

He lived—how many years
I truly can’t decide;
But this one fact appears
He lived—until he died.

“He died,” I have averred,
But cannot prove ’twas so,
But that he was interred,
At any rate, I know.

I fancy he’d a son,
I hear he had a wife:
Perhaps he’d more than one,
I know not, on my life!

But whether he was rich,
Or whether he was poor,
Or neither—both—or which,
I cannot say, I’m sure.

I can’t recall his name,
Or what he used to do:
But then—well, such is fame!
‘Twill so serve me and you.

And that is why I thus,
About this unknown man
Would fain create a fuss,
To rescue, if I can,

From dark oblivion’s blow,
Some record of his lot:
But, ah! I do not know
Who—where—when—why—or what.


In this brief pedigree
A moral we should find—
But what it ought to be
Has quite escaped my mind!


In communication with the late L. Murray.

I might not, if I could;
I should not, if I might;
Yet if I should I would,
And, shoulding, I should quite!

I must not, yet I may;
I can, and still I must;
But ah ! I cannot—nay,
To must I may not, just!

I shall, although I will,
But be it understood,
If I may, can, shall—still
I might, could, would, or should!

Some authors, however, write Nonsense Verses without intending it — as, for instance, Stonihurst, in his translation of Virgil, rendered a really sublime passage into the following extraordinary lines:

“Then did he make Heaven’s vault to rebound
With rounce robble bobble,
Of ruffee raffe roaring,
With thicke thwacke thurly bouncing.”

The following curious verse is said to have been on a gravestone at one time in the churchyard of Homersfield, Suffolk, over the body of Robert Crytoft, who died November 17, 1810, and it is very like nonsense:


As I walked by myself I talked to myself,
And thus myself said to me,
Look to thyself and take care of thyself,
For nobody cares for thee.
So I turned to myself, and I answered myself,
In the self-same reverie,
Look to myself or look not to myself,
The self-same thing will it be.

One of Theodore Hook’s witty associates, the Rev. Edward Cannon, wrote the following piece of unparalleled nonsense:


If down his throat a man should choose
In fun, to jump or slide,
He’d scrape his shoes against his teeth,
Nor dirt his own inside.

Or if his teeth were lost and gone,
And not a stump to scrape upon,
He’d see at once how very pat,
His tongue lay there, by way of mat,
And he would wipe his feet on that!

There are strung together here a variety of curious nonsensical pieces, not in the sense of their being Amphigouries, but because they deserve a place for their excellence in some ludicrous point or feature. The first is credited to Alfred Crowquil:


Knows he, who never took a pinch,
Nosey! the pleasure thence which flows?
Knows he the titillating joy
That my nose knows?

0 nose! I am as proud of thee,
As any mountain of its snows;
I gaze on thee, and feel that pride
A Roman knows.

The description here given of Bridget Brady by her lover, Thaddeus Ruddy, a bard who lived about the middle of the seventeenth century, is excellent:

“She’s as straight as a pine on the mountain of Kilmannon;
She’s as fair as the lilies on the banks of the Shannon;
Her breath is as sweet as the blossoms of Drumcallan,
And her breasts gently swell like the waves of Lough Allan;
Her eyes are as mild as the dews of Dunsany,
Her veins are as pure as the blue bells of Slaney;
Her words are as smooth as the pebbles of Terwinny,
And her hair flows adown like the streamlets of Finney.”

Our life-long friend, Mr. Punch, some years ago furnished his readers with this single-rhymed verse:


A Commissioner from Pondicherry, named Checkabendalcadermarecar, has arrived in Paris, bringing a lac of rupees (125,000 francs) for the emigrants from Alsace-Lorraine.

Come, Frenchmen, sound his fame afar,
Due your best words of welcome are
To Checkabendalcadermarecar!
Greet him with gittern or guitar,
Let his long name be ne’er a bar,
In brightest salons bid him star,
He comes to heal the wounds of war,
He helps to raise your funds to par,
So let no cloud your welcome mar
Of Checkabendalcadermarecar!

The custom of using compound words was very prevalent in Ben Jonson’s time, and he called them “un-in-one-breath-utterable.” This practice was also common among the Sophists, and Scaliger has an epigram satirising them as—


Youth-cheaters, word-catchers, vain-glory-osophers,
Such are your seekers-of-virtue philosophers.”

The following Jingling Rhymes deserve a place as a curiosity:

“A fly got caught, once in a web,
And soon the spider spied her.
A donkey pricked her ears and brayed,
Just to deride her rider.
Quite oft a lady, when she’s vexed,
Will make a feint in fainting,
She uses it but to deceive,—
As she does paint in painting.
If you will eat too much, ’tis plain,
You sure will grow, sir, grosser:
If you persist in drinking rum,
‘Twill paint your nose, sir, know, sir!
To sober keep, I signed the pledge—
My sole design in signing;
Some men throw all their cash away,
But I spend mine in mining.
I must confess I love the weed,
And when I choose, sir, chew, sir.
I don’t play cards—I find that I,
When I play loo, sir, lose, sir.
Although I’m tempted to transgress,
Each day instead, I stead eye,
Forswear gay pleasure’s blandishments—
Turn from the ready ‘red eye.’
I can’t play billiards—when I miss
I don’t accuse a cue, sir.
If you can play a better game
I’ll take a view of you, sir.
Some rhymes may more mellifluent sound,
But you can’t meet a metre
Will puzzle you much more than this,
Though quite as sweet or sweeter.”

There appears to be no end to the vagaries and nonsensical notions of poets, and the next examples are from the other side of the Atlantic — the first being a hit at the curious names of American rivers, which, though with features in nature frequently excelling those of Europe in beauty and sublimity, yet have been named in the New World in a most unfortunate manner. Witness Bigmuddy River and Littlemuddy River, Little Shallow River, Good Woman River, Little Woman River, Blowing Fly Creek, and many others to the same tune. When the western parts of the United States shall have a full quota of civilised inhabitants, cities, scholars, and poets, how sweetly shall such names sound in their verse!

“Ye plains where sweet Bigmuddy rolls along,
And Teapot, one day to be famed in song;
Where swans on Biscuit and on Grandstone glide,
And willows wave on Good Woman’s side;
How shall your happy streams in after time,
Tune the soft lay and fill the sonorous rhyme!
Blest bards, who in your amorous verse will call
On murmuring Pork and gentle Cannon Ball,
Split Rock, and Stick Lodge, and Two Thousand Mile,
White Lime, and Cupboard, and Bad Humoured Isle!
Flow, Little Shallow, flow, and be thy stream
Their great example as ’twill be their theme!
Isis with Rum and Onion must not vie,
Cam shall resign the palm to Blowing Fly,
And Thames and Tagus yield to Big Little Dry!”


(Passamaquoddy, Maine.)

Sweet maiden of Passamaquoddy,
Shall we seek for communion of souls
Where the deep Mississippi meanders,
Or the distant Saskatchewan rolls?

Ah no,—for in Maine I will find thee
A sweetly sequestrated nook,
Where the far-winding Skoodoowabskooksis
Conjoins with the Skoodoowabskook.

There wander two beautiful rivers,
With many a winding and crook;
The one is the Skoodoowabskooksis,
The other—the Skoodoowabskook.

Ah, sweetest of haunts! though unmentioned
In geography, atlas, or book,
How fair is the Skoodoowabskooksis,
When joining the Skoodoowabskook!

Our cot shall be close by the waters
Within that sequestrated nook—
Reflected in Skoodoowabskooksis,
And mirrored in Skoodoowabskook.

You shall sleep to the music of leaflets,
By zephyrs in wantonness shook,
And dream of the Skoodoowabskooksis,
And, perhaps, of the Skoodoowabskook.

When awaked by the hens and the roosters,
Each morn, you shall joyously look
On the junction of Skoodoowabskooksis,
With the soft gliding Skoodoowabskook.

Your food shall be fish from the waters,
Drawn forth on the point of a hook,
From murmuring Skoodoowabskooksis,
Or wandering Skoodoowabskook!

You shall quaff the most sparkling of water,
Drawn forth from a silvery brook
Which flows to the Skoodoowabskooksis,
And then to the Skoodoowabskook!

And you shall preside at the banquet,
And I will wait on thee as cook;
And we’ll talk of the Skoodoowabskooksis,
And sing of the Skoodoowabskook!

Let others sing loudly of Saco,
Of Quoddy, and Tattamagouche,
Of Kennebeccasis, and Quaco,
Of Merigonishe, and Buctouche,

Of Nashwaak, and Magaguadavique,
Or Memmerimammericook,—
There’s none like the Skoodoowabskooksis,
Excepting the Skoodoowabskook!


(Manufactured by Peleg Wale’s Machine.)

The melancholy days have come,
The saddest of the year;
Gone are the partridge and the plum,
The falling leaves are sere;
The partridge now forgets to drum,
The squirrel to uprear
His merry tail, the brooks are glum:
The angels disappear;
The crow pursues the vagrant crumb,
Too grateful for the cheer;
The top has ceased its summer hum,
The kites are out of gear;
O’er mother Earth a fierce autumn
Inverts its icy spear.
Each morning some imbibe their rum,
And some absorb their beer;
Young soldiers mumble “fi-fo-fum,”
To drive away their fear.
Blithe, happy, joyous school-girls thrum
Pianos far and near,
Or eat the cake of Sally Lunn,
Or Clara Vere de Vere;
While others go to chewing gum,
Or check the truant tear.
A blind young man did once calum-
Niate his precious dear,
And railed, instead of being mum,
Because he did not see her.
Another man got deaf and dumb
Because he could not hear;
But when with cold his feet got numb,
He turned in his career,
And danced a polka on his thumb,
And walked off on his ear.
Something broken   |. . . . plumb,
in the                   |. . . . queer,
machine!               |. . . . tum-ti-tum ‘

A Dr. Fitzgerald at one time wrote a poem upon his native village of Tipperary, in which occur these two lines—

“And thou! dear village, loveliest of the clime,
Fain would I name thee, but I scant in rhyme.”

Dr. Fitzgerald’s failure to find a rhyme for Tipperary drew forth the following curious composition:

“A poet there was in sad quandary,
To find a rhyme for Tipperary.
Long laboured he through January,
Yet found no rhyme for Tipperary;
Toiled every day in February,
But toiled in vain for Tipperary;
Searched Hebrew text and commentary,
But searched in vain for Tipperary;
Bored all his friends in Inverary,
To find a rhyme for Tipperary;
Implored the aid of ‘Paddy Gary,’
Yet still no rhyme for Tipperary;
He next besought his mother Mary
To tell him rhyme for Tipperary;
But she, good woman, was no fairy,
Nor witch,—though born in Tipperary;
Knew everything about her dairy,
But not the rhyme for Tipperary;
The stubborn muse he could not vary,
For still the lines would run contrary
Whene’er he thought on Tipperary.
And though of time he was not chary,

‘Twas thrown away on Tipperary.
Till of his wild-goose chase most weary,
He vowed he’d leave out Tipperary.
But, no—the theme he might not vary,
His longing was not temporary,
To find meet rhyme for Tipperary.
He sought among the gay and airy,
He pestered all the military.
Committed many a strange vagary,
Bewitched, it seemed, by Tipperary.
He wrote, post-haste, to Darby Leary,
Besought with tears his Aunty Sairie;
But sought he far, or sought he near, he
Ne’er found a rhyme for Tipperary.
He travelled sad through Cork and Kerry,
He drove like mad through sweet Dunleary,
Kicked up a precious tantar-ara,
But found no rhyme for Tipperary;
Lived fourteen weeks at Stan-ar-ara,
Was well-nigh lost in Glenegary,
Then started slick for Demerara,
In search of rhyme for Tipperary.
Through Yankee-land, sick, solitary,
He roamed by forest, lake, and prairie,
He went per terram et per mare,
But found no rhyme for Tipperary.
Through orient climes on dromedary,
On camel’s back through great Sahara;
His travels were extraordinary
In search of rhyme for Tipperary.
Fierce as a gorgon or chimaera,
Fierce as Alecto or Megaera,
Fiercer than e’er a love-sick bear, he
Ranged through the ‘ londe’ of Tipperary.
His cheeks grew thin and wondrous hairy,
His visage long, his aspect ‘eerie,’
His tout ensemble, faith, would scare ye,
Amidst the wilds of Tipperary.
Becoming hypochon-dri-ary,
He sent for his apothecary,
Who ordered ‘ balm’ and ‘ saponary,’
Herbs rare to find in Tipperary.
In his potations ever wary,
His choicest drink was ‘ home gooseberry.’
On swipes, skim-milk, and smallest beer, he
Scanted rhyme for his Tipperary.
Had he imbibed good old Madeira,
Drank pottle-deep of golden sherry,
Of FalstafFs sack, or ripe Canary,
No rhyme had lacked for Tipperary.
Or had his tastes been literary,
He might have found extemporary
Without the aid of dictionary,
Some f1tting rhyme for Tipperary.
Or had he been an antiquary,
Burnt midnight oil in his library,
Or been of temper less ‘camstary,’
Rhymes had not lacked for Tipperary.
He paced about his aviary,
Blew up, sky-high, his secretary,
And then in wrath and anger sware he,
There was no rhyme for Tipperary.”

{1} This song, though generally attributed to Pope, is believed by some to have been the work of Swift, and it appears in some editions of his works. (Vide Pickering’s, 3 vols. 1833.)

Dobson, William T. Literary Frivolities, Fancies, Follies, and Frolics. London: Chatto and Windus, 1880, pp. 158-175.

1 Response to Nonsense Verse, &c. (1880)

  1. Carole says:

    The above ” poems” remind me of a song my Mother once sang. ” I was born, one night, one morn, when the whistles rang, boom boom”. That’s all I remember.

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