Saturday, May 1, 2021



Back in January this year I posted a poem often attributed to Lewis Carroll, who was fond of wordplay. It was an example of what is called a square poem, one that reads the same downwards as across.

This is the Carroll poem:

I often wondered when I cursed,
Often feared where I would be—
Wondered where she’d yield her love,
When I yield, so will she.
I would her will be pitied!
Cursed be love! She pitied me…

This diagram makes it easier to understand what a square poem is:

Here’s one by someone named Rebekah:

I love to experience the storms
love to feel the rain and
to feel the thrill that’s thunder
experience the thrill of wet sand
the rain that’s wet. Wind and
storms and thunder, sand and lightning.


Some more examples of poetic wordplay . . .


This calculation:

((12 + 144 + 20) + (3 × √4)) ÷ 7 + 5 × 11 = 9² + 0

… can be rendered as a limerick:

A dozen, a gross, and a score,
Plus 3 times the square root of 4,
Divided by 7,
Plus 5 times 11,
Is 9 squared, and not a bit more.

That poem is most commonly attributed to Leigh Mercer, a British mathematician and wordplay expert best known for inventing the famous palindrome “a man, a plan, a canal—Panama!” in 1948.


Most limericks already rely on wordplay but here is one par excellence that has been previously posted in Bytes:

A preoccupied vegan named Hugh
picked up the wrong sandwich to chew.
He took a big bite
before spitting, in fright,


American lexicographer David Shulman wrote the sonnet "Washington Crossing the Delaware"—inspired by the famous painting by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze—in 1936, when he was 23.

The poem is in standard sonnet form: 14 lines, divided into four four-line stanzas and a final rhyming couplet, which follow a strict rhyme scheme AABBCCDDEEFFGG:

A hard, howling, tossing water scene.
Strong tide was washing hero clean.
“How cold!” Weather stings as in anger.
O Silent night shows war ace danger!

The cold waters swashing on in rage.
Redcoats warn slow his hint engage.
When star general’s action wish’d “Go!”
He saw his ragged continentals row.

Ah, he stands—sailor crew went going.
And so this general watches rowing.
He hastens—winter again grows cold.
A wet crew gain Hessian stronghold.

George can’t lose war with’s hands in;
He’s astern—so go alight, crew, and win!

It is clumsy and disjointed in parts but that can be forgiven when you realise that every single line in Shulman’s poem is an anagram of the title.


See if you recognize the more common version of this poem by John Raymond Carson:

Scintillate, scintillate, globule lucific
Fain would I fathom thy nature specific
Loftily perched in the ether capacious
Strongly resembling a gem carbonaceous


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