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The Best Humorous Poems of All Time
The Best Light Verse of All Time
The Best Funny Poems of All Time

This page contains some of the greatest humorous poems, or "light verse," ever written in the English language. Types of light verse include limericks, doggerel, nonsense verse, nursery rhymes, rhyming epigrams, free verse epigrams, humorous sonnets and humorous villanelles. The best humorous poets include Ogden Nash, Dorothy Parker, Edward Lear, Eugene Field, e. e. cummings, Hillaire Belloc, Robert Frost and T. S. Eliot. I have worked with the interests of students young and old in mind, so if you want to learn more about light verse, and read the exemplars, hopefully you have found the right "launching pad."

Related pages: Best Political Epigrams, Best Epigrams about Sex and Marriage, Best Epigrammatists, The Best Donald Trump Jokes, Tweets and Quotations

The Top Ten Humorous Poems of All Time

"To a Mouse" and "To a Louse" by Robert Burns (voted the number one Scotsman of all time in a recent Scottish TV poll)
The "Cuckoo" Song by William Shakespeare (from the play Love's Labor Lost)
"Macvity the Mystery Cat" by T. S. Eliot (from the book of poems that inspired the Broadway musical "Cats")
"There was a young lady of Niger" by Edward Lear (possibly) and "The Owl and the Pussy-cat" by Edward Lear (definitely)
"Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" by Eugene Field
"The Walrus and The Carpenter" by Lewis Carroll (from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There)
"Men Seldom Make Passes" by Dorothy Parker
"The Turtle" and "The Ant" by Ogden Nash
"The Hippopotamus" and "The Vulture" by Hilaire Belloc
"A wonderful bird is the pelican" by Dixon Lanier Merritt (often incorrectly ascribed to Ogden Nash)

Honorable Mention: "I Have a Crush on the Devil" by Rose Kelleher, "You Are Old, Father William" by Lewis Carroll, "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll, "The Health-Food Diner" by Maya Angelou

The Top Ten "Dark" Humorous Poems of All Time

"I sing of Olaf glad and big" by e. e. cummings
"Resume" by Dorothy Parker
"Daddy" and "Mad Girl's Love Song" by Sylvia Plath
"One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop
"Bagpipe Music" by Louis MacNeice
"Fire and Ice" and "Forgive, O Lord" by Robert Frost
"Recuerdo" and "First Fig" by Edna St. Vincent Millay
"Is there any reward?" by Hillaire Belloc
"Candy is dandy" by Ogden Nash
"Song" ("Go and catch a falling star") by John Donne

Honorable Mention: "Wild Asters" by Sara Teasdale, "Advice to a Girl" by Sara Teasdale, "His Highness' Dog at Kew" by Alexander Pope

Here are some the best rhyming epigrams in the English language, penned by poets who were masters of both the language and humor:

Poets aren't very useful
Because they aren't consumeful or produceful.
—Ogden Nash

Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee
And I'll forgive the great big one on me.
Robert Frost

Candy is dandy
but liquor is quicker.
—Ogden Nash

I am his Highness' dog at Kew;
pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?
Alexander Pope

The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.
—Ogden Nash

Here's a very rare form; this is one of the best humorous villanelles (or near villanelles), written by a contemporary poet:

I Have a Crush on the Devil
by Rose Kelleher

I have a crush on the devil, teehee!
It’s wrong, but those horns just do something to me,
that little mustache, the seductive goatee.

I’ve got a crush on Beelzebub, dash it!
That arrow-tipped tail of his has such panache; it
would make a nice whip. I like watching him thrash it.

I’ve got a longing for Lucifer, darn it!
There’s something about all that Evil Incarnate,
his naked red skin like a shimmering garnet.

I’ve got a school-girlish thing for Hell’s King,
infernal, eternally barbecuing!
The respectable angels just haven’t his zing.

Here's a poem that is surely one of the best villanelles in the English language, written by a great but largely unknown poet:

One Art

by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

"Recurdo" is a third villanelle-like poem by a third exceptional female poet:

Recuerdo
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.
 
We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.
 
We were very tired, we were very merry,
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed, “Good morrow, mother!” to a shawl-covered head,
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
And she wept, “God bless you!” for the apples and pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

First Fig
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!


Edward Lear has been called the "father" and the "poet laureate" of the limerick because he helped popularize the form. To be frank, I believe other poets, particularly Ogden Nash, have penned better limericks, but I do admire this one, which has been attributed to Lear:

There was a young lady of Niger
who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
with the lady inside,
and the smile on the face of the tiger.
attributed to Edward Lear and William Cosmo Monkhouse

Here's another of my all-time favorites, which illustrates how punning wordplay can spice up limericks:

A wonderful bird is the pelican;
His beak can hold more than his belican.
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week,
Though I’m damned if I know how the helican!
—Dixon Lanier Merritt (often incorrectly ascribed to Ogden Nash)

The limerick above reminds me of something Dorothy Parker once said about Oscar Wilde: that when she read an especially good epigram, she always assumed Wilde was the author. Ogden Nash holds a similar place of distinction in the pantheon of limerick writers. One thing Nash did wonderfully well was ignore the "rules" that often result in stiffly corseted formal poems. Nash's poems tend to be funny, irreverent, whimsical and "loosey-goosy." (Nash is to limericks as e. e. cummings is to sonnets.) Here are a few of Nash's best limericks and limerick-like poems:

There was a young belle of old Natchez
Whose garments were always in patchez.
When comments arose
On the state of her clothes,
She replied, "When Ah itchez, Ah scratchez."
—Ogden Nash

A flea and a fly in a flue
Were imprisoned, so what could they do?
Said the fly, "let us flee!"
"Let us fly!" said the flea.
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.
—Ogden Nash

The ant has made himself illustrious
Through constant industry industrious.
So what? Would you be calm and placid
If you were full of formic acid?
—Ogden Nash

There are more poems by Nash elsewhere on this page. If we give credit to Lear for popularizing the form, shouldn't we give even more credit to Nash for perfecting it? In any case, moving on, some of the best limericks are "naughty" poems written by the greatest of all poets, Anonymous:

There was a young man from Savannah
Who died in a curious manner:
He whittled a hole
In a telephone pole
And electrified his banana.
—Anonymous

There was a young gal name of Sally
Who loved an occasional dally.
She sat on the lap
Of a well-endowed chap
Crying, "Gee, Dick, you're right up my alley!"
—Anonymous (I touched this one up slightly)

A pious young lady of Chichester
Made all the pale saints in their niches stir.
And each morning at matin
Her breast in pink satin
Made the bishop of Chichester's breeches stir.
—Anonymous (I also touched this one up slightly)

Here Lies Archeanassa
by Asclepiades

Here lies Archeanassa
the courtesan of Colophon
whose old and wrinkled body
was still love's proud domain.

You lovers who knew her youth
in its sweet piercing splendor
and plucked those early blooms
through what a flame you passed!

The last poem above is not a limerick, but it illustrates that poems with sexual themes have been around for a long time: Asclepiades was an ancient Greek poet who lived circa 129-40 BC. As one critic put it, the limerick "is the vehicle of cultivated, unrepressed sexual humor in the English language." But while some experts claim that the only "real" limerick is an obscene or bawdy one, the form really took off initially, in terms of popularity, as a vehicle for nonsense verse and children's poems, such as the Mother Goose nursery rhymes:

Hickory dickory dock,
the mouse ran up the clock;
the clock struck one
and down he run;
hickory dickory dock.
—Mother Goose

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, "It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!"
—Edward Lear

There once was a leopardess, Dot,
who indignantly answered: "I’ll not!
The gents are impressed
with the way that I’m dressed.
I wouldn’t change even one spot."
—Michael R. Burch

Now, let's take a closer look at the various forms of poetic epigrams:

Men seldom make passes
at girls who wear glasses.
Dorothy Parker


Your children need your presence
more than your presents.
Jesse Jackson

Jackson's epigram is a pun, or word-play. Parker's rhyming epigram is a stellar example of raillery, which has been defined as "light, teasing banter," "gentle mockery" and "good-humored satire or ridicule." It is also an example of drollery: something whimsically comical. Raillery has also been successfully employed by comedians like Don Rickles and Joan Rivers (not always so gently!). Raillery can often be found in political humor:

Teddy Roosevelt spoke softly and carried a big stick;
Donald Trump speaks loudly and carries a big shtick.
—Michael R. Burch


The Best Donald Trump Jokes, Tweets and Quotations

Here's a bit of rather gentle raillery of my own, called "Saving Graces":

Life’s saving graces are love, pleasure, laughter ...
wisdom, it seems, is for the Hereafter.
Michael R. Burch

My epigram is dedicated to Christians who claim they'll inherit heaven at the expense of everyone else. (If you question the idea that Einstein and Gandhi will go to "hell," please consider: Why "hell" is vanishing from the Bible.)

The epigram is the simple, elegant black dress of literature; it leaves nearly everything bared and yet still temptingly open to the imagination. The best epigrammatists produce belle lettres ("beautiful letters" or "fine writing") en brief ("in brief"). But there is as much diversity among epigrammatists as there is in the sea. Take the one below from the master of relativity himself, Albert Einstein. Einstein, who was quite the ladies' man, was asked to explain relativity. He chose to describe the perception of time as an aspect of human nature and physical attraction:

Sit next to a pretty girl for an hour,
it seems like a minute.
Sit on a red-hot stove for a minute,
it seems like an hour.
That's relativity!
Albert Einstein


Another popular form of the epigram is the limerick. Here's one that delves into the zanier aspects of relativity:

There once was a woman named Bright
who traveled much faster than light.
She set out one day
in a relative way
and came back the previous night!
—Unknown

I find it intriguing that one of the best revelations of the weirdness and zaniness of relativity can be found in a limerick. The limerick above inspired me to pen a rejoinder:

Einstein, the frizzy-haired,
claimed E equals MC squared,
thus, mass decreases
as activity ceases ...
not my mass, my ass declared!
Michael R. Burch

Einstein's epigram might be assigned any of a number of sub-terms: leg-pulling, horseplay, whimsy, a monkeyshine . . . perhaps even a hoodwink, boondoggle or snow job (since the "relativity" being discussed has little to do with physics, but much to do with physiques, body chemistry and sex). Still, Einstein's epigram, whatever we choose to call it, contains considerable wisdom. But sometimes epigrams can be entirely for amusement, such as this one of mine:

Nun Fun Undone

Abbesses'
recesses
are not for excesses!
Michael R. Burch

An epigram like mine that is entirely for the sake of humor might earn sobriquets like: tomfoolery, buffoonery, mummery, a chestnut, a gag, a ha-ha, a jape, a jest, a lark, a rib, a sally, a quirk, a whim, a vagary. One of the funnier types of epigram is the spoonerism, a genre of the pun, or word-play:

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me
than a frontal lobotomy.
Dorothy Parker

Other types of epigrams play on words. A similar category is the chiasmus, which repeats the same or very similar words in a different order, often to scintillating effect:

It's not the size of the dog in the fight that counts,
it's the size of the fight in the dog.
—Dwight D. Eisenhower

It's not the men in your life that count,
it's the life in your men.
—Mae West


In effect, a spoonerism is an aural chiasmus: the sounds of words are reversed, rather than the same or similar words being reversed. Then there is short light verse: poetry too un-serious about itself and its aims to assume literary airs. In its silliest and least "literary" forms, light verse may be called doggerel. Masters of English light verse include Lord Byron (the author of "Don Juan") and my personal favorite, Ogden Nash:

The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks
which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
in such a fix to be so fertile.
—Ogden Nash

I like the duck-billed platypus
Because it is anomalous.
I like the way it raises its family:
Partly birdly, partly mammaly.
I like its independent attitude.
Let no one call it a duck-billed platitude.
—Ogden Nash

The Hippopotamus
by Hillaire Belloc

I shoot the Hippopotamus
With bullets made of platinum,
Because if I use leaden ones
His hide is sure to flatten 'em.

Another genre of epigrams engages in parody and lampooning. Here's one I hope to someday include it in a book of poems to be titled Why I Left the Religious Right:

I've got Jesus's name on a wallet insert
and "Hell is for Queers" on the back of my shirt
and I uphold the Law,
for grace has a flaw:
the Church must have someone to drag through the dirt.
Michael R. Burch

Yet another class of epigram (although one that is generally less entertaining) has any number of names. Let's begin with "proverb" and a famous illustration by one of the world's best-known epigrammatists:

Early to bed, early to rise
makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
—Ben Franklin

Miguel de Cervantes defined a proverb as "a short sentence based on long experience." There are, it seems, a bazillion other names for such bits of homey wisdom: adage, moral, homily, bromide, aphorism, apophthegm, axiom, dictum, maxim, motto, folk wisdom, platitude, motto, precept, saw, saying, truism, catchphrase, formula, gnome, pithy saying, etc. But alas!, many proverbs are boring and some are untrue, to boot. How many men got up early every morning, were poor as dirt, and died early deaths? Surely multitudes! But many epigrams contain both vital wisdom and sparkling humor.

To give us the most possible good material to work with, I will construe the term "epigram" to include one-liners, zingers, spoonerisms, witticisms, aphorisms, saws, pithy sayings, epitaphs, epithets, proverbs, doggerel, the chiasmus (I decline to use the strange plural: chiasmi), brief quotes, short poems, hillbilly humor, maxims, truisms, the wisdom of the ages, etc. I will take as my motto and my guiding light:

Brevity is the soul of wit.—William Shakespeare

One takes one's literary life into one's own hands when one attempts to go beyond the Masters, but then again "nothing ventured, nothing gained" (an epigram and a perfectly good truism), so please allow me to suggest that:

If brevity is the soul of wit
then brevity and levity
are the whole of it.
Michael R. Burch

But then a good epigrammatist won't let us wriggle easily off the hook of a quick assumption:

Brevity is the soul of lingerie.Dorothy Parker

The great epigrammatists will invariably do one of two things: they will either amuse and bemuse us into wisdom, or they will scathe us into wisdom. Let me give some quick examples to illustrate what I mean, before we launch this Enterprise off for the stars, to battle the Klingons (pun on "cling-ons"):

A hangover is the wrath of grapes.—Unknown

To be safe on the Fourth,
Don't buy a fifth on the third.
—James H Muehlbauer

Below is my favorite among my own epigrams; it illustrates, perhaps, how much can be squeezed into a tight compartment while still leaving breathing room for "special effects" like meter, rhyme and alliteration:

If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.
Michael R. Burch

In brief, the epigram is the Harry Houdini of literature.

An Epigram about Epigrams, giving Honor where Honor is Due
 

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.
Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker is both succinct and correct: If I hear a really good epigram and can't immediately identify its source, my first guess will almost invariably be the Divine Oscar Wilde. So without further ado, let's kick off this show by surrendering the stage to the greatest epigrammatist of them all.

The Oscar Goes to Wilde: Humorous Epigrams by the Divine Oscar Wilde

One should always play fairly,
when one has the winning cards.

The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on.
It is never any use to oneself.

Questions are never indiscreet,
answers sometimes are.

Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people
by the people
for the people.

Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing,
it is always from the noblest motives.

Always forgive your enemies:
nothing annoys them so much.

There is no sin
except stupidity.

Every saint has a past
and every sinner has a future.

We are all in the gutter,
but some of us are looking at the stars.

The public is wonderfully tolerant.
It forgives everything except genius.

If every witty thing that’s said was true,
Oscar Wilde, the world would worship You!
Michael R. Burch

The Twain Well Met: Humorous Epigrams by Mark Twain

It's not the parts of the Bible that I don't understand that bother me,
it's the parts I do understand.

To be good is noble;
but to show others how to be good is nobler and less trouble.

Always do right.
That will gratify some of the people, and astonish the rest.

By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity.
Another man's, I mean.

Providence protects children and idiots.
I know because I have tested it.

I don't like to commit myself about heaven and hell;
I have friends in both places.

Epigrams about Epigrams

What is an epigram? A dwarfish whole;
Its body brevity, and wit its soul.
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.
—William Shakespeare

To write an epigram, cram.
If you lack wit, scram!
Michael R. Burch

The Church Gets the Burch Rod

Life’s saving graces are love, pleasure, laughter ...
wisdom, it seems, is for the Hereafter.
Michael R. Burch

Abbesses'
recesses
are not for excesses!
Michael R. Burch

If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.
Michael R. Burch

I've got Jesus's name on a wallet insert
and "Hell is for Queers" on the back of my shirt
and I uphold the Law,
for grace has a flaw:
the Church must have someone to drag through the dirt.
Michael R. Burch

Epigrammatic Poems about Poets and Poetry:

I'm tired of Love: I'm still more tired of Rhyme.
But Money gives me pleasure all the time.
—Hilaire Belloc

Poets aren't very useful
Because they aren't consumeful or produceful.
—Ogden Nash

Readers and listeners praise my books;
You swear they're worse than a beginner's.
Who cares? I always plan my dinners
To please the diners, not the cooks.
Marcus Valerius Martial, translated by R. L. Barth

Though Edgar Poe writes a lucid prose
Just and rhetorical without exertion,
It loses all lucidity, God knows,
In the single, poorly rendered English version.
—Thom Gunn

Dowager Power

Here lies my wife: here let her lie!
Now she's at rest—and so am I.
—John Dryden

The Death of Class

I am his Highness' dog at Kew;
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?
—Alexander Pope

He first deceased; she for a little tried
To live without him, liked it not, and died.
—Sir Henry Wotton (1568-1639), on the death of Sir Albert Morton's wife

Her whole life is an epigram: smack smooth, and neatly penned,
Platted quite neat to catch applause, with a sliding noose at the end.
—William Blake

Errors and Terrors

Treason doth never prosper; what's the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
—Sir John Harrington

The Errors of a Wise Man make your Rule
Rather than the Perfections of a Fool
.
—William Blake

Type Cast

a politician is an arse upon
which everyone has sat except a man
—e. e. cummings

This Humanist whom no beliefs constrained
Grew so broad-minded he was scatter-brained.
—J. V. Cunningham

A Word to the Wise, by the Wordwise

It is Homer who has chiefly taught other poets the art of telling lies skillfully.—Aristotle
Poetry comes nearer to vital truth than history.—Plato
Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them.—Adlai Stevenson

Jonathan Swift

Blessed is he who expects nothing,
for he shall never be disappointed.

As blushing may make a whore seem virtuous,
so modesty may make a fool seem sensible.

Every man desires to live long,
but no man wishes to be old.

I never wonder to see men wicked,
but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.

Martial Law: the Epigrams of Marcus Valerius Martial

There is no glory in outstripping donkeys.
Conceal a flaw, and the world will imagine the worst.
Fortune gives too much to many, enough to none.
If fame is to come only after death, I am in no hurry for it.
Laugh, if thou art wise.
Lawyers are men who hire out their words and anger.

Nota Bene: the Notable Epigrams of Ben Franklin

Little strokes
fell great oaks.

Plough deep
while sluggards sleep.

Vessels large may venture more,
but little boats should keep near shore.

He that goes a-borrowing
goes a-sorrowing.

Immersed in Emerson: the Epigrammatic Wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson

To be great is to be misunderstood.
For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure.
If you would lift me you must be on higher ground.

The Elegant Epigrams and Side-Splitting Spoonerisms of Dorothy Parker

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me
than a frontal lobotomy.

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.

If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end,
I wouldn't be a bit surprised.

More Epigrams of Richard Moore:

Logic, like Rilke's angel, is beautiful but dangerous.
I am very concerned that the new formalism will revert to the old stodginess.
It is a terrible limitation on poets, just to write about poets. How are other people going to be interested in their poems?
When I read Homer, I sometimes have the feeling that we have been starving to death for 3000 years.

Government and the arts, alas, they just don't mix.
Your bed of roses, bureaucrat, is full of pricks.

Related pages: Best Political Epigrams, Best Epigrams about Sex and Marriage, Best Epigrammatists, The Best Donald Trump Jokes, Tweets and Quotations

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