Showing posts with label Public Domain Poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Public Domain Poetry. Show all posts

Forum Thread: Insult Poetry


Insult poetry has a long poetic tradition, for example, this poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834):


----------In Koln, a town of monks and bones,
----------And pavements fanged with murderous stones,
----------And rags, and hags, and hideous wenches;
----------I counted two-and-seventy stenches,
----------All well defined, and separate stinks!
----------Ye nymphs that reign o'er sewers and sinks,
----------The river Rhine, it is well known,
----------Doth wash your city of Cologne;
----------But tell me, nymphs,
----------What power divine
----------Shall henceforth wash the river Rhine?


The earliest known African-American insult poem:

Bars Fight

by Lucy Terry (1730-1821)

Samuel Allen like a hero fout
And though he was so brave and bold
His face no more shall we behold.
Eleazer Hawks was killed outright
Before he had time to fight
Before he did the Indians see
Was shot and killed immediately.
Oliver Amsden he was slain
Which caused his friends much grief and pain.
Samuel Amsden they found dead
Not many rods off from his head.
Adonijah Gillet we do hear
Did lose his life which was so dear.
John Saddler fled across the water
And so escaped the dreadful slaughter.
Eunice Allen see the Indians comeing
And hoped to save herself by running
And had not her petticoats stopt her
The awful creatures had not cotched her
And tommyhawked her on the head
And left her on the ground for dead.
Young Samuel Allen, Oh! lack a-day
Was taken and carried to Canada.

(First published in 1855)

One of the oldest known African insult poems:

----------You really resemble
----------An old man who has no teeth
----------And who wants to eat elephant hide,
----------Or a woman without a backside
----------Who sits down on a hard wooden stool.
----------You also resemble a stupid dolt
----------Who while hunting lets an antelope pass by
----------And who knows that his father is sick at home.

An insult poem offers a way for the poet to express anger without engaging in a total snark fest; the main hallmarks of an insult poem are humor and exaggeration. Insult poems do not generally deal in universal themes--they are personal and are directed to a specific person or group. However, these poems are artistic in that they emphasize the poet's verbal superiority with words (as opposed to down and dirty fighting and name-calling).

Do you have a favorite public domain insult poem, or have you written one yourself (with or without an explanation)?

If so, feel free to post it in the comment section.


Some information is from The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Terms, 2nd ed. Edited by Ron Padgett. New York: Teachers and Writers Collaborative, 2000. 91-92.

Public Domain Poetry: Excerpt from "Jerusalem," William Blake (1757-1827)


And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

The preface to Milton, as it appeared in Blake's own illuminated version

Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.


Originally titled "And did those feet in ancient time," this William Blake poem is from the preface to his epic Milton: a Poem (1804). Today it is best known as the hymn "Jerusalem," with music written by C. Hubert H. Parry in 1916.

This hymn is often referred to as England's unofficial second national anthem.

Public Domain Poem: "The Flea" (John Donne)

Marke but this flea, and marke in this,
How little that which thou deny'st me is;
Me it suck'd first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled bee;
Confesse it, this cannot be said
A sinne, or shame, or losse of maidenhead,
-----Yet this enjoyes before it wooe,
-----And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two,
-----And this, alas, is more than wee would doe.

Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,
When we almost, nay more than maryed are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;
Though parents grudge, and you, w'are met,
And cloysterd in these living walls of Jet.
-----Though use make thee apt to kill me,
-----Let not to this, selfe murder added bee,
-----And sacrilege, three sinnes in killing three.

Cruell and sodaine, has thou since
Purpled thy naile, in blood of innocence?
In what could this flea guilty bee,
Except in that drop which it suckt from thee?
Yet thou triumph'st, and saist that thou
Find'st not thyself, nor mee the weaker now;
-----'Tis true, then learne how false, feares bee;
-----Just so much honor, when thou yeeld'st to mee,
-----Will wast, as this flea's death tooke life from thee.

Public Domain Poem: Sonnet 18 (William Shakespeare)


Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer's lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade

Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;

Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this and this gives life to thee.


As a graduate student at the University of Florida (about a million years ago), I had to memorize this sonnet.

But I don't hold that against this cool poem--it's still a fave.

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