WestWard Quarterly, the Magazine of Family Reading Writer's Workbench

Writing "Nonsense Poetry"

Our next issue won’t be produced till after April Fool’s Day, so this might be the appropriate issue in which to discuss “nonsense poetry.” The master of nonsense poetry was Charles L. Dodgson, better known by his literary name Lewis Carroll. His most famous poem, “Jabberwocky,” appeared in his 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass, a sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Here are the first two stanzas:

‘Twas bryllyg, and ye slythy toves
     Did gyre and gymble in ye wabe:
All mimsy were ye borogoves;
     And ye mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
     The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
     The frumious Bandersnatch!”

“Jabberwocky” is considered one of the greatest nonsense poems in English. “It seems very pretty,” Alice said after reading it, “but it’s rather hard to understand!” Another fine example is Carroll’s “The Mad Gardener’s Song.” Here’s my favorite stanza:

He thought he saw a Banker’s Clerk
     Descending from the bus:
He looked again, and found it was
     An Hippopotamus.
“If this should stay to dine,” he said,
     “There won’t be much for us!”

Another type of nonsense poetry, the limerick, was perfected by Edward Lear. This is a favorite of mine:

An epicure, dining at Crewe,
Found a rather large mouse in his stew.
     Said the waiter: “Don’t shout,
     Or wave it about,
Or the rest will be wanting one too.”

Recently I came across this limerick, which ends with a clever play on words:

A great Congregational preacher
Told a hen, "You're a beautiful creature."
     The hen, hearing that,
     Laid an egg in his hat,
And thus did the hen reward Beecher.

In case you didn’t catch the wordplay, Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) was a prominent Congregational minister, the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

While in high school in 1955 I tried my hand at nonsense poetry and came up with this, entitled “Market Day”:

Today I want a-marketing —
     Such curious things I bought!
I’m sure you’ll soon agree with me
     When you hear what I got.

I bought a newly ripened state
     Down at the big State Farm.
Then I went down to the Armory
     And bought myself an arm.

I went into a rest room,
     And bought a restful bed.
Then I went to Police Headquarters
     To buy myself a head.

Out at the city airport
     I bought a box of air.
I went into a hardware store
     To buy what I hard to wear.

I went down to the railroad tracks;
     That’s where I bought de pot.
Oh, today I went a-marketing
     And that was what I bought!

We sometimes print nonsense poetry in our “The Lighter Side” section, and invite you to consider submitting such for inclusion there.

Happy Writing!
The Publisher

©2014 Laudemont Press