Tag Archives: humorous verse

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Geoffrey A. Landis, ‘If Angels Ate Apples’

If angels ate apples, potatoes and pears
they’d soon be chubby and cheerful as bears
nibbling knishes and other such things,
tickling your face with the tips of their wings.

If seraphim shouted and whistled at girls,
drank drafts from thimbles, all friends with the world
drained the best ale and chased it with rye,
then fluttered in circles while trying to fly.

Angels on tables! (Watch out for your glass!)
Slipping on puddles, right plop on their ass!
Laughing at music that only they hear,
then tweaking the barmaids a pinch on the rear.

Fuzzy fat angels, that’s something to see,
as they dance to the jukebox at quarter to three,
and ace out the pinball, a marvelous feat,
the lights and bells flashing (though sometimes they cheat).

If angels made merry, would that be so odd?
Must they always be solemn, to stay friends with God?
It’s a pity that Heaven is so far away
angels hardly ever come down and just play.

Geoffrey A. Landis writes: “It’s impossible to chose just one poem as a favorite, of course, and even if I could, which poem I’d pick would change from day to day, maybe even from minute to minute. Still, I’ve alway been fond about ‘If Angels Ate Apples’; it’s one that reads well out loud, and I had fun writing it. Mostly I was playing with meter and alliteration. I was happy that Gardner Dozois picked it up for Asimov’s Science Fiction, and since then it’s seen a couple of reprints.”

Geoffrey A. Landis is a rocket scientist who sometimes plays at being a science-fiction writer, and a science-fiction writer who sometimes plays at being a poet. In the process he’s picked up a handful of awards, ranging from science fiction’s Hugo and Nebula awards to the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling award, and had his stories and poems appear in twenty languages. He lives in Berea, Ohio, with his wife (who is also a science fiction writer and a poet) and four cats.

Website: http://www.geoffreylandis.com/poetry.html

Odd poem: ‘Motor Bus’, macaronic poem by A. D. Godley

What is this that roareth thus?
Can it be a Motor Bus?
Yes, the smell and hideous hum
Indicat Motorem Bum!
Implet in the Corn and High
Terror me Motoris Bi:
Bo Motori clamitabo
Ne Motore caedar a Bo—
Dative be or Ablative
So thou only let us live:
Whither shall thy victims flee?
Spare us, spare us, Motor Be!
Thus I sang; and still anigh
Came in hordes Motores Bi,
Et complebat omne forum
Copia Motorum Borum.
How shall wretches live like us
Cincti Bis Motoribus?
Domine, defende nos
Contra hos Motores Bos!

This elegant piece of nonsense was written in January 1914 to celebrate the introduction of a motorised omnibus service in the city of Oxford–hence the reference to two of its main streets, the Corn(market) and High Street. Noticing that both ‘motor’ and ‘bus’ could be the nominative singular of Latin nouns, Professor Godley wrote this series of couplets, declining and rhyming the nouns through all their presumed cases, singular and plural. (The poem presumes the old-fashioned English pronunciation of Latin with many hard vowels needed for the rhymes.) And why not? ‘Motor’ is Late Latin for ‘mover’, and ‘bus’ is a casual modern abbreviation of ‘omnibus’, Latin for ‘for everyone’. The entire piece is written in a mixture of English and Latin, and translates roughly as:

What is this that roars so,
Can it be a motor bus?
Yes, the smell and hideous hum
Indicates a motor bus!
In the Cornmarket and the High Street
Terror of the motor bus fills me:
To the motor bus I will call out
Lest I be killed by the motor bus–
You can be Dative or Ablative
So long as you let us live:
Where shall your victims flee?
Spare us, spare us, O Motor Bus!
So I sang; while still
Motor buses came in hordes
And the whole market place was filled
With a mass of motor buses.
How shall wretches like us live
Surrounded by motor buses?
O Lord, defend us
From these motor buses!

Macaronic, or mixed languages, literature has ancient roots, showing up wherever two languages overlap in one population for a while, frequently in verse, frequently for humorous effect: alternating Persian and Arabic verses or hemistichs of Saadi and Hafez; Rumi’s occasional mix of Persian, Arabic, Turkish and Greek; Indian poetry written in alternating indigenous Hindi and the Persian of the Mughal rulers; and Latin and vernacular languages throughout Europe at the end of the Middle Ages. Modern examples include the Beatles’ ‘Michelle’ and José Feliciano’s ‘Feliz Navidad’.

Photo: “Brandesburton, with NER motor buses 1915 (archive ref PO-1-18-1)” by East Riding Archives is marked with CC0 1.0