My favourite poems


The poems reproduced here are, so far as I can discover, in the public domain.

Arthur Hugh Clough* (1819-1861)

Thou shalt have one God only; who
Would be at the expense of two?

No graven images may be
Worshiped, except the currency:

Swear not at all; for, for thy curse
Thine enemy is none the worse:

At church on Sunday to attend
Will serve to keep the world thy friend:

Honour thy parents; that is, all
From whom advancement may befall:

Thou shalt not kill; but need’st not strive
Officiously to keep alive:

Do not adultery commit;
Advantage rarely comes of it:

Thou shalt not steal; an empty feat
When it’s so lucrative to cheat:

Bear not false witness; let the lie
Have time on its own wings to fly:

Thou shalt not covet; but tradition
Approves all forms of competition:

The sum of all is, thou shalt love,
If anybody, God above:

At any rate shalt never labour
More than thyself to love thy neighbor.

* the ugh in Clough is pronounced as ff

Bert Leston Taylor (1866 - 1921)

Behold the mighty dinosaur,
Famous in prehistoric lore
Not only for his power and strength
But for his intellectual length.

You will observe by these remains
The creature had two sets of brains—
One in his head (the usual place),
The other at his spinal base.

Thus he could reason a priori
As well as a posteriori.
No problem bothered him a bit:
He made both head and tail of it.

So wise was he, so wise and solemn,
Each thought filled just a spinal column.
If one brain found the pressure strong
It passed a few ideas along.

If something slipped his forward mind,
’Twas rescued by the one behind;
And if in error he was caught,
He had a saving after-thought.

As he thought twice before he spoke,
He had no judgement to revoke;
Thus he could think without congestion
Upon both sides of every question.

O, gaze upon this model beast,
Defunct ten million years at least.

[written ca. 1921]

The Blind Men and the Elephant
John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
“’Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

The Moral:
So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!