Category Archives: odd poems

Odd poem: AI-generated poem in answer to “Can you write a poem about AI in the style of Robin Helweg-Larsen?”

Silicon and code,
A symphony of thought,
A machine mind unfolds.

A spark of electricity,
A flicker of light,
A new form of intelligence,
Is born tonight.

A labyrinth of algorithms,
A dance of ones and zeroes,
A new kind of consciousness,
Is ours to discover.

The future is here,
A fusion of man and machine,
A symbiosis of intellect,
A cosmic dream.

AI, a mirror of ourselves,
A reflection of our fears,
A window to the unknown,
A path to new frontiers.

Robin Helweg-Larsen is a Danish poet and author known for his poems that express a sense of wonder and reverence for the natural world. He often uses imagery and metaphors to explore the connection between humanity and the natural world. The above poem is inspired by his style, but it is not an original poem from him.

*****

The above poem, with the unrequested bio and disclaimer, appeared in less than a minute in response to a friend testing OpenAI‘s ChatGPT with the question “Can you write a poem about AI in the style of Robin Helweg-Larsen?”

I am intrigued. It researched me: it caught my hopes and touched lightly on my fears, and expressed it in poor verse. Fair enough! But actually it’s not yet capable of good verse. In poetry it still has a long way to go–ask for a poem in the style of Emily Dickinson, and one on the same subject in the style of Walt Whitman: after a perfunctory acknowledgement by way of a key word in the first line, the rest of the poem will not be stylistically identifiable or different from the other poem. Picking those two poets seems a reasonable test: you can’t exactly sing Whitman’s poetry to the tune of ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’. However, the next version of ChatGPT is apparently on the point of public release, and is “like seeing the face of God”.

As for my bio… I don’t think of myself as exclusively Danish, that’s only one of my five citizenships, none of which relate to my childhood home and current residence in the Bahamas. But I’ll take it. I’m also not sure about being “known” for anything as a poet! But I’ll take that too. ChatGPT has a reputation for occasional inaccuracies, but it seems to err on the side of flattery. An interesting trait. We’ll just have to wait and see if its good nature continues past The Singularity, when AI takes off into explosive self-development beyond human capabilities…

Ray Kurzweil forecasts The Singularity to take place by 2029. This is the end of the world as we know it. As with all life anyway, enjoy it while you can!

Photo credit: AI-generated by OpenAI’s Dall.e 2 from my request: “Robot writing a poem in 1940s SF style”.

Odd poem: ‘The Naughty Preposition’ by Morris Bishop

I lately lost a preposition:
It hid, I thought, beneath my chair.
And angrily I cried: “Perdition!
Up from out of in under there!”

Correctness is my vade mecum,
And straggling phrases I abhor;
And yet I wondered: “What should he come
Up from out of in under for?”

*****

Morris Bishop had a high regard for light verse: “The aim of poetry, or Heavy Verse, is to seek understanding in forms of beauty. The aim of light verse is to promote misunderstanding in beauty’s cast-off clothes. But even misunderstanding is a kind of understanding; it is an analysis, an observation of truth, which sneaks around truth from the rear, which uncovers the lath and plaster of beauty’s hinder parts.”

Bishop was an acknowledged master of rhyme and meter, but that doesn’t imply that he would be limited by the grammatical restrictions of the apparently well-educated. He employed and enjoyed common speech.

Now this may sound strange coming from me, someone who writes a blog dedicated to the expansion of formal verse, but many “rules of grammar” are garbage. To me, correct speech is whatever unambiguously communicates what the speaker intended. This is naturally aided by the use of predictable patterns of word usage, because we are a pattern-recognition species, and this in turn leads to “rules”; but these rules are really only “commonly used patterns”.

Similarly the forms of traditional verse are there because they are useful: rhythm guides and builds emotion; rhyme, rhythm and wordplay all create engagement and help memorisation. The forms are neither arbitrary nor sacrosanct. The formality is purely useful (and part of its use is creating fun). Grammatical rules and formal verse have that in common.

Winston Churchill is often cited as the author of a scribbled comment on someone “correcting” his grammar: “This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put.” But that joke appears to predate his involvement with the issue: there is a lengthy discussion of it here in the Quote Investigator.

English has particularly confusing and contradictory rules because of the blending of several waves of Germanic speakers (Anglo-Saxons, followed by Danish invaders and later Dutch merchants) overrunning the British (i.e. Celtic speakers with their complicated auxiliary verbs: “How did you do that?”), in turn being overrun by French-speaking conquerors supported by Latin-speaking priests. (I recommend John McWhorter’s ‘Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue‘.) It was this latest ruling class that was averse to (among other things) ending a sentence with a preposition. But that’s a natural and correct part of speech for a Dane to end with.

And I’m an Anglo-Dane.

T-shirt Slogan: ‘Never use a preposition to end a sentence with.’” by Ken Whytock is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Odd poem: ‘Zarathustra’s Roundelay’ by Friedrich Nietzsche

O man! Attend!
What does deep midnight’s voice contend?
‘I slept my sleep,
‘And now awake at dreaming’s end:
‘The world is deep,
‘And deeper than day can comprehend.
‘Deep is its woe,
‘Joy—deeper than heart’s agony:
‘Woe says: Fade! Go!
‘But all joy wants eternity,
‘Wants deep, deep, deep eternity!’

*****

The above is the R.J. Hollingdale translation of Zarathustra’s Rundgesang from the German original of Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra.

O Mensch! Gib acht!
Was spricht die tiefe Mitternacht?
»Ich schlief, ich schlief—,
Aus tiefem Traum bin ich erwacht:—
Die Welt ist tief,
Und tiefer als der Tag gedacht.
Tief ist ihr Weh—,
Lust—tiefer noch als Herzeleid:
Weh spricht: Vergeh!
Doch alle Lust will Ewigkeit—,
—will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit!«

Photo: “Friedrich Nietzsche: ‘Hoy no somos el mismo hombre de ayer y mañana volveremos a ser otro.’” by Antonio Marín Segovia is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Odd poem: ‘We Dance For Laughter’ by Albert Einstein

We dance for laughter,
we dance for tears,
we dance for madness,
we dance for fears,
we dance for hopes,
we dance for screams,
we are the dancers,
we create the dreams.

*****

I can’t find anyone other than Einstein credited with this verse, but I also can’t find the source for it. Regardless, Einstein had an appropriate attitude for studying the universe: look at it and ourselves in the spirit of dance, learning, dreaming and creativity.

Photo: “Aðstæður til náms” by sfjalar is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Odd poem: Edward Lear, ‘Imitation of the Olden Poets’

Time is a taper waning fast!
Use it, man, well whilst it doth last:
Lest burning downwards it consume away,
Before thou hast commenced the labour of the day.

Time is a pardon of a goodly soil!
Plenty shall crown thine honest toil:
But if uncultivated, rankest weeds
Shall choke the efforts of the rising seeds.

Time is a leasehold of uncertain date!
Granted to thee by everlasting fate.
Neglect not thou, ere thy short term expire,
To save thy soul from ever-burning fire.

This poem is a gorgeous piece of deliberately bad verse. Edward Lear had a wonderful ear for rhythm, and this appalling piece is a great jab at poets who, even to a Victorian like Lear, were long out of date: meaning, syntax and prosody are all garbled, wrapping around bland but unclear moralising exhortations.

The first line of each stanza ends with an exclamation mark even if, as in verse three, it is in the middle of a sentence.

The very first line has four simple feet in iambic tetrameter, eight syllables.
The second line also has eight syllables but manages to make the rhythm stumble through poor phrasing.
The third line has ten syllables; it can be read as iambic pentameter, but the previous lines encourage an attempt to keep to four slightly crowded feet.
The fourth line goes to twelve syllables, at which point the prosody is collapsing towards Lear’s younger contemporary, William McGonagall–you either cram everything into four feet, or let the stanza dribble out in too many iambics.

The second stanza begins “Time is a pardon of a goodly soil!” Very affirmative, but what does it mean? And are we back to pentameters now? It’s not clear–the second line is definitely tetrameter… so how to read the third and fourth lines?

The last stanza is pure iambic pentameter. The chaos is in the confused understanding of time, “a leasehold of uncertain date”, but is somehow part of “everlasting fate”. Similarly “thy short term” is shadowed by “ever-burning fire”. On balance, time appears to be represented as infinite–events are portrayed as everlasting–but time is also called “a leasehold of uncertain date”; that phrase is merely a poor expression that confuses Time with the time of a human’s life.

The poem has been set to music by Bertram Wooster with a Betty Boop video. They credit Lear, and the poem shows up in PoemHunter and a couple of other places… and I want to believe it is Lear… but I’d be happier if I could find more about the origin of the piece.

Candle” by kkalyan is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Odd poem: D.H. Lawrence dialect verse, ‘The Collier’s Wife’

Somebody’s knockin’ at th’ door
Mother, come down an’ see!
–I’s think it’s nobbut a beggar;
Say I’m busy.


It’s not a beggar, mother; hark
How ‘ard ‘e knocks!
–Eh, tha’rt a mard-arsed kid,
‘E’ll gie thee socks!

Shout an’ ax what ‘e wants,
I canna come down..

–‘E says, is it Arthur Holliday’s?
–Say Yes, tha clown.

‘E says: Tell your mother as ‘er mester’s
Got hurt i’ th’ pit–
What? Oh my Sirs, ‘e never says that.
That’s not it!

Come out o’ th’ way an’ let me see!
Eh, there’s no peace!
An’ stop thy scraightin’, childt,
Do shut thy face!


‘Your mester’s ‘ad a accident
An’ they ta’ein’ ‘im ‘i th’ ambulance
Ter Nottingham.’–Eh dear o’ me,
If ‘e’s not a man for mischance!

Wheer’s ‘e hurt this time, lad?

–I dunna know,
They on’y towd me it wor bad–
It would be so!

Out o’ my way, childt! dear o’ me, wheer
‘Ave I put ‘is clean stockin’s an’ shirt?
Goodness knows if they’ll be able
To take off ‘is pit-dirt!

An’ what a moan ‘e’ll make! there niver
Was such a man for fuss
If anything ailed ‘im; at any rate
I shan’t ‘ave ‘im to nuss.

I do ‘ope as it’s not very bad!
Eh, what a shame it seems
As some would ha’e hardly a smite o’ trouble
An’ others ‘as reams!

It’s a shame as ‘e should be knocked about
Like this, I’m sure it is!
‘E’s ‘ad twenty accidents, if ‘e’s ‘ad one;
Owt bad, an’ it’s his!

There’s one thing, we s’ll ‘ave a peaceful ‘ouse f’r a bit,
Thank heaven for a peaceful house!
An’ there’s compensation, sin’ it’s accident,
An’ club-money–I won’t growse.

An’ a fork an’ a spoon ‘e’ll want–an’ what else?
I s’ll never catch that train!
What a traipse it is, if a man gets hurt!
I sh’d think ‘e’ll get right again.

D.H. Larence was the son a a barely literate coal-miner at Brinsley Colliery in Nottinghamshire. This poem is from the environment of his childhood, in the dialect he grew up in. To make the three-way conversation a little easier to navigate, I’ve italicised the wife’s words.

As for the dialect, it’s not difficult, more of an accent than anything. “Scraighting” isn’t a word I know, but it’s obvious from the context. Other words: “nuss” is “nurse”. “Owt bad” doesn’t mean “knocked out badly”, it means “aught bad”, “anything bad”.

Odd poem: Robert Frost, ‘The Draft Horse’

With a lantern that wouldn’t burn
In too frail a buggy we drove
Behind too heavy a horse
Through a pitch-dark limitless grove.

And a man came out of the trees
And took our horse by the head
And reaching back to his ribs
Deliberately stabbed him dead.

The ponderous beast went down
With a crack of a broken shaft.
And the night drew through the trees
In one long invidious draft.

The most unquestioning pair
That ever accepted fate
And the least disposed to ascribe
Any more than we had to to hate,

We assumed that the man himself
Or someone he had to obey
Wanted us to get down
And walk the rest of the way.

At a poetry reading in the Library of Congress, Robert Frost apparently described “The Draft Horse” as a poem “that nobody knows how to take“. That’s one way to look at it. Another way is that everyone who reads it seems to quite confidently take it in a different direction.

It has been called an allegory of the atom bomb–but, though first published in 1962, it was actually written in the 1920s, long before the bomb.

It’s been called an allegory of American expansionism.

It has been suggested as “a metaphor for the lives of ordinary citizens in totalitarian states, such as Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and West Germany.” (West Germany. Really.) “Then the man could be an agent of the government, who does what he deems necessary and then disappears again.

Again, “In many cultures, the horse is traditionally a symbol for power. The horse has played a large role in American history. Robert Frost’s The Draft Horse may be a reflection of the power struggles he saw around him and the senseless actions he perceived in the conflicts.

How about “One analysis of the poem is that fate is unavoidable. Why struggle to stop or question fate when by its very definition it cannot be stopped?

Here’s the complete commentary from one blogger: “I’m on a bit of a poetry moment right now. The Draft Horse by Robert Frost is possibly one of the best poems ever written and well worth sharing with anyone willing to read writing at it’s highest art form.” (“it’s”, sic. Also, he miscopied one of the lines as “Any more than we had to hate,” thereby losing the meaning.) A more extensive commentary is in a comment posted to that blog:

I love this poem ! i think it is a great description of postlapsarian life. Laterns wont burn buggies are frail, the horse is too heavy.the night is so dark …
amidst all that a fellow deliberately stabs your horse.

People of good will are always hesitant to blame problems on hate.
and any way walking is a fine way to get there

And then there’s this thesis towards an M.A.:
WHY I KILLED THE DRAFT HORSE:
THE GOLDEN BOUGH, ROBERT FROST, AND “PROGRESS”
by Eugene Charles McGregor Boyle III

August 2013
The absence of criticism on Robert Frost’s “The Draft Horse” suggests that it is a challenge to Frost scholarship. This reading views Frost’s strange and neglected poem as a return to a monomyth offered by James Frazer’s hugely influential The Golden Bough. In “The Draft Horse,” Frost reconsiders the concept of ceremonial sacrifice that undergirds Frazer’s encyclopedic study of world culture and, by performing ceremony as a kind of modem poesis, Frost complicates the hero/sacrificial object role and critiques the progressive ideology that grounds Frazer’s account to fashion a troubling epic for modern America that implicates its national readers in a kind of savagery.

(Supported with references not just to Frazer’s “Golden Bough” and Eliot’s “Wasteland”, but also Dante’s “Inferno” and Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu”, among others.)

Here is another take on it: “This is a very simple, straightforward story, but the reader cannot just leave it like that. Why would Frost have written this poem if he had only wanted to say “a stranger killed a horse”? The reader is therefore faced with the fact that “The Draft Horse” is a symbolic poem that must be read at another level, otherwise it has no purpose.

Well, why does it have to have a “purpose”? It’s a poem, for god’s sake. Maybe the poem “means” exactly what one or other of the above-quoted commenters thinks… but maybe Frost just had a strange dream. Or maybe someone had told him of an incident. Maybe the rhymes and images just floated around in his head. Who knows? Who cares? It’s a poem and, for some reason, it resonates (differently) with a lot of people. It’s an odd poem. Enjoy!

“Horse and Buggy on a Bush Track” by Blue Mountains Library, Local Studies is licensed under openverse from WordPress.org

Odd poem: Abraham Lincoln, ‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy’

Here where the lonely hooting owl
Sends forth his midnight moans,
Fierce wolves shall o’er my carcase growl
Or buzzards pick my bones.

No fellow-man shall learn my fate,
Or where my ashes lie;
Unless by beasts drawn round their bait,
Or by the ravens’ cry.

Yes! I’ve resolved the deed to do,
And this the place to do it:
This heart I’ll rush a dagger through,
Though I in hell should rue it!

Hell! What is hell to one like me
Who pleasures never knew;
By friends consigned to misery
By hope deserted too?

To ease me of this power to think,
That through my bosom raves,
I’ll headlong leap from hell’s high brink,
And wallow in its waves.

Though devils yell, and burning chains
May waken long regret;
Their frightful screams, and piercing pains,
Will help me to forget.

Yes! I’m prepared, through endless night,
To take that fiery berth!
Think not with tales of hell to fright
Me, who am damn’d on earth!

Sweet steel! come forth from out your sheath,
And glist’ning, speak your powers;
Rip up the organs of my breath,
And draw my blood in showers!

I strike! It quivers in that heart
Which drives me to this end;
I draw and kiss the bloody dart,
My last—my only friend!

This poem was published anonymously in the April 25, 1838 edition of The Sangamo Journal of Springfield, Illinois, under this introduction: “The following lines were said to have been found near the bones of a man supposed to have committed suicide, in a deep forest, on the Flat Branch of the Sangamon, sometime ago.” For various reasons it is now commonly assumed that this is the poem that Lincoln’s friend Joshua Speed told Lincoln’s biographer William Herndon about, a poem that the President had written on suicide as he struggled through a period of deep depression.

A full discussion of the identification of the poem with Lincoln can be found in the magazine Shenandoah, and I happily quote their assessment of Lincoln’s merits as a poet:

The poem is similar to other mortality poems of the period, though even more melodramatic than most (the last stanza, in which the speaker continues to narrate his feelings after he has stabbed himself through the heart, is particularly painful). Aside from the historical curiosity of its authorship, the piece—with its glamourizing of suicide and its overwrought morbidity—does little to distinguish itself from other amateur poetry in the school of Poe.

Photo: “16 Abraham Lincoln” by US Department of State is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Odd poem: Samuel Johnson on wordplay

If I were to be punishèd
For every pun I shed
There would be no puny shed
For my punnish head.

Strictly speaking, of course, this isn’t a poem–it was merely an apparently spontaneous reply (but how many “spontaneous” remarks have been thought of and prepared in advance?)

The story was told in the following way:– “Sir,” said Johnson, “I hate a pun. A man who would perpetrate a pun would have little hesitation in picking a pocket.” Upon this Boswell hinted that his “illustrious” friend’s dislike to this species of small wit might arise from his inability to play upon words. “Sir,” roared Johnson, “if I were punishèd for every pun I shed, there would not be left a puny shed of my punnish head.”

The moral of the story was presumably for Boswell and others to guard their possessions when Doctor Johnson was around…

“statue of Samuel Johnson outside St Clement Danes Church” by ell brown is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Review: Max Gutmann, ‘Light and Comic Verse’

Quirkily-workily
Jorge Bergolio,
On a career path with
Quite a steep slope,

Unostentatiously
Worked as a janitor,
Then as a bouncer, and
Then as the Pope.

This elegant double dactyl on the life of Pope Francis is representative of ‘The Hearthside Treasury of Light and Comic Verse’: interesting, witty, technically perfect. The poems include limericks, clerihews, varieties of ballades, and are purported to be written by a variety of poets, several of whom are claimed to be the first-ever winner of the prestigious Blackfrier Prize for Poetry. The book’s veneer of being ‘edited by Max Gutmann’ is worn even thinner with the bio of his least likely poet, Ed Winters… “A devotee of Hemingway, Hart Crane and Sylvia Plath, Winters shot himself in the mouth while diving from a ship with his head in an oven.”

The book includes two pages of riddles in rhyme, of enjoyable difficulty: half were guessable for me, half not. There is also a full-length Poe parody (‘Quoth the Parrot: “Cracker. Now!”); scenes from The Merchant of Venice, King Lear and Titus Andronicus rewritten by W.S. Gilbert; outrage at the Trump presidency, the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, and the US Supreme Court’s appalling excuse for subverting the 2000 Presidential election; a poem appropriately written in the form of a dozen eggs; and various puns, off-colour jokes and random surprises. Many of the poems have previously appeared in Light poetry magazine, many others in a range from Asses of Parnassus to the Washington Post.

As for “The Hearthside Treasury” part of the book’s title… though there was (or is) a Hearthside Press, active from the mid-1950s to mid-70s; and an unrelated Hearthside Books, active from the mid-70s to the present, sort of; this “Hearthside Treasury” appears unconnected to anything. Indeed, it’s not even available on Amazon. It doesn’t have an ISBN. All this is a pity, as it is as enjoyable a book of light and comic verse as you can find anywhere. If you want a copy – and if you enjoy comic verse you really ought to have one – you’re going to have to contact the author directly through his website (which mostly focuses on his plays) at maxgutmann.com