The Friday Fillip

Simon C’s post earlier in the week about the law book poem foreshadowed this week’s fillip, which is about poetry. Well, doggerel, more like. I thought we’d do a quick tour through some of the many kinds of quicki-verse invented to please and amuse.

Everyone’s favourite, this ya-ta-ta-ya-ta-ta-ta-ta verse was popularized — but not invented — by Edward Lear, one of the Victorian age’s eccentric versifiers and artists. Since his time, we’ve moved from nonsense to bawdiness, which makes it a bit tricky to feature a real limerick here. I mean, where do you go when you start with “There once was a legal researcher…”? The whole genre is one big double entendre. Even so…

I point you to OEDILF — the Ominificent English Dictionary in Limerick Form, wherein you’ll find more than thirty thousand of these perky pomes, which can be dipped into via categories, such as “legal terms.” Whence:

An appellant is one who does plea;
Begs the Court of Appeals to agree
That the lower court erred.
Wants reversal declared.
The opposing one’s called appellee.
[Carol Lyons]

Of which I’d never heard until the recent Harper’s reprinted one that appeared in the TLS. The difficult Samuel Beckett wrote what he called this “gloomy French doggerel.” These are dense and gnomic:

sans fin
ni trêve
à rien

In the TLS and Harper’s piece a number of poets presented their translations. Roger O’Keefe, for instance, rendered Beckett: dream / without cease / or treaty /
of peace

I’ve only been able to find one other mirlitonnade online:

en face
le pire
jusqu’à ce
qu’il fasse rire

The author of the book containing the poem says “a rough crib might render the poem as ‘ahead / the worst / until the point / where it begets laughter'”. Have a go yourself at a translation. Less than a dozen words in French. How hard can it be?

As compact as Beckett’s mirlitonnades but not gloomy, haiku is Japan’s “one breath” poem. The conservative rule is 17 syllables in three lines of 5, 7, and 5, though some argue that 11 syllables in English (3, 5, 3) more closely approximates the compaction of the original Japanese form.

Here’s a classic by Basho (za saraba / yukimi ni korobu / okoromade – 1688) for the upcoming season:

now then, let’s go out
to enjoy the snow… until
I slip and fall!

If artifice is not your thing, try the Random Word Haiku generator, which, on my visit, came up with:

Repulsive catbird,
hussy musket mammiform,
simplex smokily.

Defined by Wikipedia this way:
* It is biographical and usually whimsical, showing the subject from an unusual point of view; but it is hardly ever satirical, abusive or obscene * It has four lines of irregular length (for comic effect) * The first line consists solely (or almost solely) of a well-known person’s name. The form was invented by and is named after Edmund Clerihew Bentley.


Sir Christopher Wren
Said, “I am going to dine with some men.
If anybody calls,
Say I am designing St Paul’s.”

So how do you finish:

Chief Justice McLachlin…



  1. This was the perfect post for late on a Friday. Thank you for sharing these, especially the OEDILF!

    I’m stunned to find, however, that it does not include a “definition” for librarian – yet. The creative forces of this group must be marshalled!

  2. But I digress

    Il y avait un jeune homme de Dijon
    Qui se foutait de toute religion.
    Il a dit, “Quant à moi,
    Je déteste les trois:
    Le Père, et le Fils, et le Pigeon.”

    Þegar líkið er glaseygt, svo glampar í,
    og í görnum er eitthvað, sem skvampar í,
    enda nefbroddur rauður
    — þá er dóninn ei dauður —
    heldur drekkur hann of mikið Campari.

    On s’étonne ici que Caliste
    Ait pris l’habit de Moliniste
    Puisque cette jeune beauté
    Ote à chacun sa liberté
    N’est-ce pas une Janseniste?

    Det var en ung dam ifrån Gränna
    som stjärten så hårt kunde spänna
    att hon i detta hål
    kunde strypa en ål
    och till och med vässa en penna

    Jen estis fraŭlin’ en Parizo;
    ŝi dormis sen noktoĉemizo,
    feliĉe ŝi havis
    – Kaj tio min ravis –
    piĵamon en mia valizo.

    Prope mare erat tubulator
    Qui virginem ingrediebatur
    “Desine ingressus,
    Audivi progressus!”
    “Est mihi,” inquit tubulator.

  3. Good gravy, mate. De donde?