In Honor of Alexander Pope, Here's 9 Of Our Favorite Fun Poems
May 21 marks the birthday of Alexander Pope, one of the most famous English poets of the 18th century. The author of The Dunciad and The Rape of the Lock, Pope is best known as a master practitioner of satirical and comic verse. In celebration of this forefather of humorous poetry, here are nine of our favorite poems that make us laugh, available in collections at your local library:
"Sick" by Shel Silverstein
Shel Silverstein, the celebrated children's poet and illustrator, has so many wonderfully funny poems that it's hard to choose just one. But our favorite from Where the Sidewalk Ends just might be "Sick," which famously begins:
I cannot go to school today,
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
"I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps..."
"What I Learned From the Incredible Hulk" by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
"Bounden Duty" by James Tate
The late James Tate, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, was an exceptional comic writer with a gift for strange, surreal humor. His famous "Bounden Duty" is perfect example, beginning with an unexpected phone call:
"You Are Old, Father William" by Lewis Carroll
Most everyone knows Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the famous Jabberwocky, but our favorite funny poem of Lewis Carroll first appeared in Wonderland, when Alice first meets the Caterpillar and she recites "You Are Old, Father William," beginning:
"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"
"Haiku" by Etheridge Knight
Etheridge Knight, who is best known for his 1968 volume Poems from Prison, was also a master of haiku. Many of his haiku are very dark and evocative, inspired by his prison environment. But throughout his work, Knight displays a knack for finding humor in hardship, and this charming haiku is a perfect example of his straightforward wit:
One of America's premier comic poets, Ogden Nash's work is clever, quippy, and quick -- take his famous poem "Fleas," which reads: "Adam / Had 'em." But our favorite is "I Didn't Go to Church Today:"
I trust the Lord to understand.
The surf was swirling blue and white,
The children swirling on the sand.
He knows, He knows how brief my stay,
How brief this spell of summer weather,
He knows when I am said and done
We'll have plenty of time together."
"The Orange" by Wendy Cope
Wendy Cope is one of our favorite comic poets, and she has published many great pieces of light verse throughout her long career. This poem, from Serious Concerns, starts off goofy but ends positively life-affirming:
"At lunchtime I bought a huge orange—
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I got a half.
And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It's new.
The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I'm glad I exist."
"Poem [Lana Turner Has Collapsed]" by Frank O'Hara
This absolute gem is by Frank O'Hara, an important figure in the New York School of poets in the 1950s and 60s who was famous for his warm, easy style of writing. O'Hara perfectly sums up the overblown drama associated with celebrity gossip with this poem about the famous actress and model:
"This Be The Verse" by Philip Larkin
Finally, this list just wouldn't be complete without this darkly funny piece by English poet Philip Larkin. A cautionary tale about the failures of parenthood with the cadence and meter of a Dr. Seuss book, Larkin's best lines in "This Be The Verse" aren't exactly fit for print -- but the last stanza basically sums it up, entreating the reader to avoid the pitfalls of parentage: