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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."

Humorous verse can be merely for the sake of fun, but it can also be wise and enlightening. For example:

The imbecile constructs cages for everyone he knows,
while the sage (who has to duck his head whenever the moon glows)
keeps dispensing keys all night long
to the beautiful, rowdy, prison gang.
—by Hafiz, translation by Michael R. Burch

Raise your words, not their volume.
Rain grows flowers, not thunder.
—by Rumi, translation by Michael R. Burch

The Top Ten Humorous Poems of All Time

"The Owl and the Pussy-cat" by Edward Lear
"The Walrus and The Carpenter" by Lewis Carroll
"Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll
"Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" by Eugene Field
"To a Mouse" and "To a Louse" by Robert Burns
The "Cuckoo" Song by William Shakespeare (from the play Love's Labor Lost)
"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

Honorable Mention: "You Are Old, Father William" by Lewis Carroll, "The Health-Food Diner" by Maya Angelou, "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)

One of the most common and popular forms of doggerel is the limerick. This is one of my favorite limericks:

There was a young lady named Bright
Who traveled much faster than light.
She set out one day,
In a relative way,
And came back the previous night.

I find it interesting 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,
proved E equals MC squared.
Thus, all mass decreases
as activity ceases.
Not my mass, my ass declared!
Michael R. Burch

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

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

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.

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

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

Whales have calves,
Cats have kittens,
Bears have cubs,
Bats have bittens,
Swans have cygnets,
Seals have puppies,
But guppies just have little guppies.
—Ogden Nash

The ostrich roams the great Sahara.
Its mouth is wide, its neck is narra.
It has such long and lofty legs,
I'm glad it sits to lay its eggs.
—Ogden Nash

Some primal termite knocked on wood
And tasted it, and found it good!
And that is why your Cousin May
Fell through the parlor floor today.
—Ogden Nash

The wasp and all his numerous family
I look upon as a major calamity.
He throws open his nest with prodigality,
But I distrust his waspitality.
—Ogden Nash

There is something about a Martini,
A tingle remarkably pleasant;
A yellow, a mellow Martini;
I wish I had one at present.
There is something about a Martini,
Ere the dining and dancing begin,
And to tell you the truth,
It is not the vermouth—
I think that perhaps it's the gin.
—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.

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:

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

Dubious politicians have long inspired satirical jokes in the form of puns and limericks:

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

But epigrams can be entirely for amusement, such as this one of mine:

Nun Fun Undone

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 were 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

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.

These are some of my favorite humorous poems of my own:

Stage Craft-y
by Michael R. Burch

There once was a dromedary
who befriended a crafty canary.
Budgie said, "You can’t sing,
but now, here’s the thing—
just think of the tunes you can carry!"

Clyde Lied!
by Michael R. Burch

There once was a mockingbird, Clyde,
who bragged of his prowess, but lied.
To his new wife he sighed,
"When again, gentle bride?"
"Nevermore!" bright-eyed Raven replied.

Less Heroic Couplets: Murder Most Fowl!
by Michael R. Burch

“Murder most foul!”
cried the mouse to the owl.

“Friend, I’m no sinner;
you’re merely my dinner!”

the wise owl replied
as the tasty snack died.

Less Heroic Couplets: Meal Deal
by Michael R. Burch

Love is a splendid ideal ...
at least till it costs us a meal.

Less Heroic Couplets: Bed Head
by Michael R. Burch

“Early to bed, early to rise”
makes a man wish some men weren’t so wise
(or at least had the decency to tell pleasing lies).

Less Heroic Couplets: Sex Hex
by Michael R. Burch

Love’s full of cute paradoxes
(and highly acute poxes).

Less Heroic Couplets: Generation Gap
by Michael R. Burch

A quahog clam, age 405,
said, “Hey, it’s great to be alive!”

I disagreed, not feeling nifty,
babe though I am, just pushing fifty.

A quahog clam found off the coast of Ireland is the longest-lived animal on record, at an estimated age of 405 years.

by Michael R. Burch

Preposterous bird!
Inelegant! Absurd!

Until the great & mighty heron
brandishes his fearsome sword.

by Michael R. Burch

love was a little treble thing—
prone to sing
and sometimes to sting

Kissin’ ’n’ buzzin’
by Michael R. Burch

Kissin’ ’n’ buzzin’
the bees rise
in a dizzy circle of two.
Oh, when I’m with you,
I feel like kissin’ ’n’ buzzin’ too.

Don’t ever hug a lobster!
by Michael R. Burch

Don’t ever hug a lobster, if you meet one on the street!
If you hug a lobster to your breast, you're apt to lose a teat!
If you hug a lobster lower down, it’ll snip away your privates!
If you hug a lobster higher up, it’ll leave your cheeks with wide vents!
So don’t ever hug a lobster, if you meet one on the street,
But run away and hope your frenzied feet are very fleet!

Options Underwater: The Song of the First Amphibian
by Michael R. Burch

“Evolution’s a Fishy Business!”

Breathing underwater through antiquated gills,
I’m running out of options. I need to find fresh Air,
to seek some higher Purpose. No porpoise, I despair
to swim among anemones’ pink frills.

My fins will make fine flippers, if only I can walk,
a little out of kilter, safe to the nearest rock’s
sweet, unmolested shelter. Each eye must grow a stalk,
to take in this green land on which it gawks.

No predators have made it here, so I need not adapt.
Sun-sluggish, full, lethargic—I’ll take such nice long naps!
The highest form of life, that’s me! (Quite apt
to lie here chortling, calling fishes saps.)

I woke to find life teeming all around—
mammals, insects, reptiles, loathsome birds.
And now I cringe at every sight and sound.
The water’s looking good! I look Absurd.

The moral of my story’s this: don’t leap
wherever grass is greener. Backwards creep.
And never burn your bridges, till you’re sure
leapfrogging friends secures your Sinecure.

Salvation of a Formalist, an Ode to Entropy

God's universal decree
That I get to be
My erstwhile boxed-in verse is free?
Michael R. Burch

A germane young German, a dame
with a quite unpronounceable name,
Frenched me a kiss;
I admonished her, "Miss,
you’ve left me twice tongue-tied, for shame!"
Michael R. Burch

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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