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(Not an) Ode to a Great Verse

Words about Music book coverI’ve never had a good ear for poetry and I haven’t managed to commit much of it to memory. You may at one time or another hear me quote a few fragments from Shakespeare or a gem passed down from the paterfamilias titled “Little bird with yellow bill.” That would be pretty much the extent of my repertoire.

Silly rhymes such as limericks are a different story. (Snootier types and anyone likely to know the name of the current United States Poet Laureate may in fact classify “Little bird” as a silly rhyme, but earthier types recognize its profundity.[1]) I try to forget most of the more vulgar limericks, but either I’m not trying hard enough or they are literary cockroaches, nearly impossible to kill. More than a few rattle around inside my head. I’m hoping that last-gasp random firings of synapses on my deathbed don’t result in an extemporaneous recital of any limerick featuring a mention of Nantucket.

My two favorite limericks–and surely they can be found in any highfalutin’ volume of the best-loved poems of the English language–are the squeaky-clean “There once was a student named Bright”[2] and the mildly risqué “The breasts of a barmaid from Wales.”[3]

It has been years since I last ran into a rhyme worth committing to memory. But this morning in John Amis & Michael Rose’s Words about Music I found this treasure from that most prolific of authors, Anonymous:

There was a young fellow from Sparta,
A really magnificent farter,
   On the strength of one bean
   He’d fart “God Save the Queen”
And Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

He was great in the Christmas Cantata,
He could double-stop fart the Toccata,
   He’d boom from his ass
   Bach’s B Minor Mass
And, in counterpoint, La Traviata.

Now that is a worthy piece of work I will enthusiastically commit to memory!


  1. A little bird with yellow bill // Perched upon my window sill // I coaxed it close with crumbs of bread // And then I smashed its little head.  [Author unknown] [^]
  2. There was a young lady named Bright // Whose speed was far faster than light // She set out one day // In a relative way // And returned on the previous night.  [A. H. Reginald Buller, 1923] [^]
  3. The breasts of a barmaid from Wales // Were tattooed with the prices of ales // And on her behind // For the sake of the blind // Was the same information in Braille.  [Author unknown] [^]


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