Celebration of Bad Mortuary Poetry: 1879, 1919

It’s “Bad Poetry Day,” a time to celebrate the very best of bad doggerel. I have to admit that I find a guilty pleasure in really bad poetry, particularly on mortuary subjects. Here are a few favorites.

THE UNION FOREVER

It seems that people differ

On the subject, very grave,

Of how to tend their bodies

When they’ve flunked their last close shave.

But as far as I’m affected

When I go to meet my Maker,

I’ll be happy and contented

With a union undertaker.

Some people speak of burning

So they’ll beat the Devil to it—

While others hold that later

They may need themselves and rue it;

But as far as I’m affected

When I go to meet my Maker,

I’ll be happy and contented

With a union undertaker.

Some people want a Parson,

While some others want a Priest.

Some players want no gallery,

While others want a feast—

But as far as I’m affected

When I go to meet my Maker,

I’ll be happy and contented

With a union undertaker.

I want a union label

On the lapel of my shroud;

I want the coffin union-made,

And no scabs in the crowd.

I want my union card to show

Saint Peter’s ticket taker 

That I was sent to Glory

By a union undertaker.

St. Louis [MO] Post-Dispatch 12 April 1919: p. 10

This one just rollicks along when read aloud:

THE UNIQUE HOTEL.

(See Murray’s  Scotland,” page 169).

My friends and my relatives know very well

I yearn for the novel and striking—
Just now there’s the strangest north-country hotel

Evoking my rapturous liking.
The notice (in language sufficiently terse)

Recording its varied resources,
Concludes with, “good stables. Superior hearse,

With suitable feathers and horses!

The wines may be bad and civility nil,

The furniture aged and fluffy,
Wax candles appear twice-a-day in the bill,

And all may be gloomy and stuffy.
Such minor discomforts let cavillers curse;—

Eclipsing the painfullest courses,
You’ve but to recall that “superior hearse,

With suitable feathers and horses.”

Suppose, as by rail you’re approaching the spot,

Your train will persist in colliding

Along with another and “getting it hot,”

Or smashing to bits in a siding;
Though sadly your friends may regard your reverse,

While shedding the tear it enforces,
At least they can get a “superior hearse,

With suitable feathers and horses.”

Suppose you are spending a holiday there

With hopes of lost vigour regaining
By climbing up mountains and breathing the air,

And find it incessantly raining;
As daily the weather grows dismally worse,

And hope from your bosom divorces,
You’ll guess why they keep a “superior hearse,

With suitable feathers and horses.”

Suppose, when they give you your “little account,”

You go and you think you’ve detected

A glaring extortion, because the amount

Exceeds what you might have expected.

You’ll find it — suppose you decline to disburse,

And your fist your decision endorses—

Convenient to have that “superior hearse

With suitable feathers and horses.”

Fun, T. Moffitt 20 August 1879: p 74

See also “The Mourner A-La-Mode” over at Mrs Daffodil Digresses.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead and on Twitter @hauntedohiobook. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

The Mourner A-la-Mode: A Satirical Poem: 1871

mourning walking toilettes The Milliner and Dressmaker, Goubaud

THE MOURNER A-LA-MODE.

By John G. Saxe

I saw her last night at a party

(The elegant party at Mead’s),

And looking remarkably hearty

For a widow so young in her weeds;

 

Yet I know she was suffering sorrow

Too deep for the tongue to express.

Or why had she chosen to borrow

So much from the language of dress?

 

Her shawl was as sable as night;

And her gloves were as dark as her shawl;

And her jewels that flashed in the light,

Were black as a funeral pall;

 

Her robe had the hue of the rest

(How nicely it fitted her shape!)

And the grief that was heaving her breast,

Boiled over in billows of crape.

 

What tears of vicarious woe,

That else might have sullied her face,

Were kindly permitted to flow

In ripples of ebony lace!

 

While even her fan, in its play,

Had quite a lugubrious scope,

And seemed to be waving away,

The ghost of the angel of Hope!

 

Yet rich as the robes of a queen

Was the sombre apparel she wore;

I’m certain I never had seen

Such a sumptuous sorrow before;

 

And I couldn’t help thinking the beauty,

In mourning the loved and the lost,

Was doing her conjugal duty

Altogether regardless of cost!

 

One surely would say a devotion

Performed at so vast an expense,

Betray’d an excess of emotion

That was really something immense;

 

And yet as I viewed, at my leisure,

Those tokens of tender regard,

I thought:—It is scarce without measure

The sorrow that goes by the yard.

 

Ah! grief is a curious passion,

And yours—I am sorely afraid—

The very next phase of the fashion

Will find it beginning to fade.

 

Though dark are the shadows of grief,

The morning will follow the night,

Half-tints will betoken relief,

Till joy shall be symbol’d in white!

 

Ah, well! It were idle to quarrel

With Fashion, or aught she may do;

And so I conclude with a moral

And metaphor—warranted new.

 

When measles come handsomely out,

The patient is safest, they say;

And the sorrow is mildest, no doubt,

That works in a similar way!

The Spiritual Magazine 1 August 1871

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Widows were often, alas, fair game for the Victorian press. Many marriages were not love-matches and many women were widowed quite young. In addition, there might be economic incentive to remarry. These circumstances led to the cliche of the “merry widow,” a woman who delighted in mourning finery and thought of nothing except bagging another husband. Tragically, the author, John G. Saxe [1816-1887] poet, wit, and satirist, knew too much about mourning. Only three years after this light-hearted poem was published, he began to suffer a series of losses: his youngest daughter Laura died of consumption aged 17 in 1874. His daughter Sarah died in 1879; his mother in 1880; another daughter, Harriet, his eldest son, John, and John’s wife also died of the disease in quick succession in 1881. In 1880, his wife collapsed with an apoplexy and died, worn out from nursing her sick children and husband. Saxe himself suffered head injuries in a train accident in 1875, sank into a reclusive melancholy and died in 1887.

Mead’s is “Paul Mead’s” a chop house in Brooklyn popular with lawyers and sporting men. The last stanza refers to the belief that if the rash of measles was somehow supressed or turned inward, it would go ill with the patient.

You may read more about mourning in The Victorian Book of the Dead, now available. A recent post satirizing the fashionable widow was this one.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.