Nonsense Poems

One fine day in the middle of the night,
Two dead men got up to fight,
Back to back they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot each other,

One was blind and the other couldn’t, see
So they chose a dummy for a referee.
A blind man went to see fair play,
A dumb man went to shout “hooray!”

A paralysed donkey passing by,
Kicked the blind man in the eye,
Knocked him through a nine inch wall,
Into a dry ditch and drowned them all,

A deaf policeman heard the noise,
And came to arrest the two dead boys,
If you don’t believe this story’s true,
Ask the blind man he saw it too!

The above is one of the nonsense poems I learned as a child and still enjoy as an adult. They are silly, illogical, full of contradictions, and leave little kids and some adults scratching their heads and frowning because the poem breaks all the rules of logic.

Here’s another one I remember, but in a slightly different variation:

Ladies & Jellyspoons…
: : I stand before you to go behind you
: : To tell you something I know nothing about.
: : This Thursday, which is Good Friday,
: : There will be a mothers’ meeting to which only fathers are invited.
: : Wear your best clothes if you haven’t any,
: : And if you can come, please stay at home.
: : Admission is free, pay at the door.
: : Grab a chair and sit on the floor.
: : It doesn’t matter where you sit,
: : The man in the gallery is sure to spit.
: : Our next meeting is about the four corners of the round table.
: : Thank me!

The version I learned was from a folklore book, and goes:

Ladies and jellybeans
Reptiles and crocodiles
I stand before you to sit behind you
To tell you something I know nothing about
There will be a meeting tomorrow evening
Right after breakfast
To decide which color to whitewash the church
There is no admission
So pay at the door
There are plenty of seats
To sit on the floor.

A discussion on StackExchange points back to manuscripts dated from the 1400s and 1305 with examples of nonsense-type sayings. It also ties into ballads where impossible tasks are assigned to a hero, or would-be (or former lover), as in “Scarborough Fair:”

“Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
Without any seam nor needlework*
Tell her to wash it in yonder dry well
Which never sprung water nor rain ever fell

Tell her to dry it on yonder thorn**
Which never bore blossom since Adam was born.

Ask him to find me an acre of land
Between the salt water and the sea-sand

Oh, will he plough it with a lamb’s horn,
and sow it all over with one peppercorn,

And when he has done and finished his work,
then come to me for your cambric shirt,
and he shall be a true love of mine

Both are common folklore tropes, and appear in a lot of places.

*The Virgin Mary was said to have made a seamless robe for Jesus, although whether this was Jesus as a child, or later in his career, depends on which source you look at. It is based on John 19: 23-24, with some medieval updates and theological embroidery.

**The opposite of this appears in “The Corpus Christi Carol,” which describes a thorn tree that has bloomed ever since Jesus birth (also the German carol “Maria Durch ein Dornwald Ging.”

12 thoughts on “Nonsense Poems

  1. “*The Virgin Mary was said to have made a seamless robe for Jesus,”

    Mary’s talent with a needle has caught the attention of several poets….

    “Her feet were burned by the desert –
    Like a desert-dweller she trod –
    Even the two-fold Virgin,
    Spouse and Bearer of God!

    She took the shears and the sacking,
    The needle and stubborn thread,
    She cut, she shaped, and she sewed them,
    And, “This shall be blessed,” she said.

    She passed in the white hot noontide,
    On a wave of the quivering air;
    And the Bishop’s eyes were opened,
    And he fell on his face in prayer.”

  2. I guess my family wasn’t up to (past) date(s) on nonsense.

    Besides loving the nonsense of Carroll (and using “oh frabjous day! calloo! callay” in my writing whenever I can *s*), my favorite is still:

    Last night upon the stair
    I saw a man who wasn’t there
    He wasn’t there again today
    I wish that man would go away

  3. My personal favorite….

    One bright day in the middle of the night,
    Two dead boys got up to fight.
    They turned their backs and faced each other,
    Drew their swords and shot the other.
    One was blind and the other couldn’t see,
    So they chose a fool for their referee.
    A mute eyewitness screamed with fright.
    A cripple danced to see the sight.
    A deaf policeman heard the noise.
    He came and shot the two dead boys.
    A paralyzed donkey passing by,
    Kicked the copper in the eye,
    And knocked him through a rubber wall,
    Into a ditch and drowned them all.
    If you don’t believe this lie is true,
    Ask the blind man. He saw it too.

  4. It is possible to weave a seamless garment with a wide opening at one end (for feet) and a smaller one at the other end for the head. Since it can be done I’ve always assumed that that’s what Mary did.

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