Light Verse - Double Dactyls
This section contains Double Dactyls, described in detail
in the introductory section. To save you few clicks, I'll
recapitulate: A dactyl is a unit of the meter (or beat) of
a line of poetry. One dactyl (or one "dactylic foot")
has the sound DUM da da (like the name "Harrison"
in the first poem below). A Double Dactyl has 8 lines. Lines
4 and 8 rhyme. Lines 1 through 3 and lines 5 through 7 are
double dactyls that is, contain two dactylic feet,
so have the sound DUM da da DUM da da. The first line is nonsense,
though it may have some significance associated with the subject
of the poem (e.g., in the first poem below, Tippeca Nippeca
refers to William Henry Harrison's nickname, "Tippecanoe",
the name of a river near which he led troops, to win a then
famous battle). Somewhere in the poem there must be a double
dactyl word a single 6-syllable word that fills a double
dactyl line ("Unpresidentially" in the first poem
below). Lines 4 and 8 are a dactyl followed by a single stress
(DUM da da DUM). The second line contains a name of
a real person or, more rarely, a character from fiction. That
name must be a double dactyl. There are variations, but those
are the main rules. Here are some of mine:
William H. Harrison
("H" is for Henry) was
Born to be bold,
Won bloody battles, was
President briefly, then
Died of a cold.
Labored to breathe through his
Prayed that a vigorous
Rough-riding life would prove
Photo-ed, said "CHEESE!"
[Note: Teddy suffered from Asthma and fought back, leading
a vigorous, out-doorsy life. He has a big toothy smile in
most of his photos, unusual at the time, when public figures
usually made serious faces at cameras.]
George, Earl of Carnovan,
Dug up King Tut's
Mummified kings defeat
(Losing their guts).
[Note: Guts are removed as part of mummification. And
also, rising to the top politically often empties a king of
guts that is, courage.]
Took over Babylon,
Glory and fame.
In the Old Testament
He rates two mentions -- great
What was that name?
Pamela's Pummeled and
Pawed by Lord B;
Yet She's elated to
Wed him, turns weeping to
[In Richardson's novel often considered the first
English novel, serving girl Pamela writes home (the novel
consists of her letters) about her employer, "Lord B",
whose attempts to seduce and/or violate her she resists, treating
it as the reward of her virtue when she gets him to marry
Held that Black Marian
Sing to us all at the
Snubbed the snobs good!
[Marian Anderson, great Black contralto, was to give a
concert from the Lincoln Memorial in the late 1930s.
The DAR had some authority over this and decided to prevent
the perfornance, and would have succeeded had not the First
Lady, Eleanor R., shamed them by publicly resigning her membership
in the DAR and calling their action racist. Marian did her
Foiled the stern "Daughters" and
Sang on the mall.
Faster than you could say
"Jackie R. Robinson,"
Started to fall.
[Note: DAR = Daughters of the American Revolution. Jackie
Robinson broke another race barrier as the first Black baseball
player in the Major Leagues.]
Katharine of Aragon
Lost Hank to Boleyn, whose
Head went astray;
Seymour was next, but the
Fourth, Anne of Cleves, was his
Queen for a day.
[Note: Refers to Henry VIII and the first 4 of his 6 wives.
The definitions of "venery", not a nonsense word
after all, include "the hunt or chase" and "indulgence
in sexual activity."]
N. Wilton Chamberlain
Both on the court and in
Bed did not wilt:
Ten thousand femmes, he claimed,
Had in his chamber lain,
Crammed to the hilt.
[Note: Wilt Chamberlain, great basketball player, claimed
something like that in his autobiography.]
Gives us Joe Leaphorn and
Also Jim Chee,
Navajo cops solving
Crimes with their inklings of
Clues Feds can't see.
No Java on the Reservation
Navajo's spats with the
Hopi might stop
If on the land that's dis-
Puted, both peoples would
Share an IHOP.
[Note: The above two poems refer to Tony Hillerman's crime
novels, set on the big Navajo reservation in the Four-Corners
area (mostly in northern New Mexico), in which two Navajo
reservation cops (Leaphorn and Chee) unravel mysteries usually
linked to aspects of Navajo or Hopi culture. "Hogandy"
contains "hogan", the traditional Navajo dwelling.
Hillerman occasionally mentions the long-running land dispute
between the Navajo and the Hopi, IHOP is an anagram of Hopi.
"No Java" is an anagram of Navajo.]
Spencer C. Cavendish --
Liberal Unionist --
How could it be
Marquess of Hartington,
Eight Earl of Devonshire --
So dactyl he!
[Note: That is, it seems hardly accidental that a guy
with a double dactyl name who has a double dactyl political
label should acquire a title that consists of TWO double dactyls.
An "epiphenomenon" is a secondary phenomenon, a
sort of by-product. Perhaps the poem would be simpler with
"coincidentally", but part of the fun of this form
is bringing in some less well-known 6-dollar word.]
John, Earl of Rochester,
Worn out with wenching, just
Had to unwind,
Polished his verses un-
Til they reflected him,
Marquis of Queensbury
(John Sholto Douglas) loved
Wilde he reviled for his
Raged when he found his son
Al in cahoots.
[Note: Queensbury's son, Alfred, Lord Douglas, had, in
fact, seduced poet Oscar Wilde (famed now for both his promiscuity
and wittiness, so I combined them into a single double-dactyl
word), but since Oscar was a married adult with children and
Douglas was a teen, Oscar looked to be a monster. Oscar didn't
like it when Queensbury publicly called him a pederast. Oscar,
foolishly, sued Queensbury for slander and lost and went to
jail to boot and died soon after coming out (of jail,
that is), a "broken man". The next two poems tell
more of the story.]
Marquis of Queensbury,
Rule your own child!
"Nonsense," said Alfred, "I
Will not be ruled!" Then he
Ran wild with Wilde.
Marquis of Queensbury,
Cursed Oscar Wilde,
Claiming he'd ruined Young Al.
Oscar was ruined instead,
[Note: This poem manages to fit in TWO double dactyl words.]
James, Earl of Cardigan
Charged with his Light Brigade:
Glory and gore;
Badly he'd blundered; yet --
What's he remembered for?
Sweaters he wore.
[Note: Cardigan did give his name to the sweaters. He
also led the famously gallant, but stupid and suicidal "Charge
of the Light Brigade" in the Crimean War.]
Never caught hell for his
Clinton got blasted...but
Clinton's alive; JF-
[Note: "Is-is-iologist" a student of "is-is",
referring to Clinton's answer to questions about whether he
is having an affair with Monica (or something like that):
He said that it depends on what "is" is. (Meaning
that he wasn't having one at the moment or that it was over.)]
Joseph P. Kennedy
Worked with the Mafia,
Rigging the vote,
Fixing, in secret, his
Clan's fate, his country's too:
Swindle of note...and Reason to gloat!
[Note: Joseph, father of JFK, Robert and Teddy, did work
with the Mafia to rig the vote in Illinois. He was handling
money for labor unions there that were Mafia run. JFK won
in Illinois as a result, narrowly beating Nixon for the presidency.
Please join me in admiring my coinage "clandestinational".
It combines clan (the Kennedy Clan) clandestine (secret),
clan destiny or destination and nation, since Joseph's manipulations
set the destiny of his clan and his nation and did so clandestinely.
(Supposedly, his sons didn't know, and Robert was shocked
when he found out years later.)]
Filled up the White House with
Artists and such.
Publicly public, yet
Privately private: Our
Never learned much.
Alternate 2nd stanza:
Publicly public, yet
Privately private: Kept
Safe from our touch.
[Note: Jacquie seemed a very public person, always in
the news, very photogenic, but really revealed very little
about herself, both as First Lady and afterwards.]
Yearning for sacredness,
Eastward did roam,
Dodging the clutch of fans
Knowing deep down that there's
No place like Om.
Speeds up the Space program --
Bold men who dare;
Backed by ex-Nazi brains,
Billions in contracts -- a
Scent in the air?
[Note: The Space Program in those days was full of prominent
ex-Nazi scientists like Dr. Werner Von Braun. I went for the
pun: The "Mach" in Machiavellian, referring to the
Mach Number so often referred to by Space Program test pilots:
Mach One = speed of sound, Mach Two = twice the speed of sound,
Films, unlike Roy's, are all
Still, no girls kissed, no dumb
Songs sung by Hoppy, while
Yawn, craving fights!
[Note: In the 40s and 50s, two of the popular cowboy stars
(among kids) were Hopalong Cassidy, nick-named Hoppy (played
by William Boyd) and Roy Rogers. The Cassidy films were black
and white, the Rogers films in color -- score one point for
Roy. But the Rogers films took breaks to have Roy sing songs
and even kiss the girl, while Hoppy stuck to business
score one or two points for Hoppy. The semi-barbarians are
the kids in the audience, booing the mushy scenes, eager for
fight scenes. I made up a riddle based on Hoppy: What do you
get when you cross baked beans with Mexican jumping beans?
Answer: Hopalong Quesadilla!]
Chaste Connie Chatterly
Wedded one dead from his
Hips to his toesies.
Lucky the gamekeeper,
Reamed out her cobwebs and
Wreathed her with posies.
[Note: In D. H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterly's Lover,
the game keeper, Mellors, does, indeed, ream her out and decorate
her with flowers. She's not exactly "chaste", since
she had a lover before her disastrous marriage, but at the
point where she meets Mellors, she's been chaste, but not
chased, for quite a while.]
Though shy and proper, was
Immersed in Amherst how
Quicken her quatrains? Her
Did it with DASH!
[Note: EMily ("em" as in em dash), who spent
nearly all her life in Amherst, MA, in her original manuscripts,
loved to use dashes. They're in almost every line. Some editors
remove them or substitute commas.]
Gallantly led us to
War with Iraq.
Now it seems he and his
Fed us a crock.
[Note: This one has two double-dactyl words.]
Somber Miss. Havisham
Sits in the dark with her
Gullible Pip thinks she's
Made him a gentleman;
Truth? She's a flake!
[Note: This describes one thread of the plot of Dickens'
novel, "Great Expectations": Poor orphan boy Pip
(perhaps the hick of line one) is invited to visit the wealthy,
eccentric Miss Havisham, who sits in a dark room wearing her
decaying wedding dress, next to a moldy old wedding cake --
she was jilted many years before. Pip later goes to London
to make something of himself and starts receiving money (via
a lawyer) from a benefactor unnamed, and assumes it's Miss
Haversham. It turns out not to be (read the book) and that
Miss Havisham's plans for Pip have nothing to do with helping
To The Unknown Professor:
Splits finest hairs with a
Rather dull knife;
Prose stuffed with quibbles, quite
[Note: This poem, too, includes TWO double dactyl words,
one I invented, combining "syntax" and taxidermy
to suggest the lifeless imitation of life that results when
every sentence is "stuffed" with clauses that qualify
clauses that qualify clauses. Such prose gives one the impression
that most professors have big asses. Why? Because they require
so many qualifications to guard each cautious assertion. After
all, qualification is the sound of an ass being covered, so
the more qualifications needed, the bigger the ass.]
Henry of Bolingbroke
Probably murdered King
Spent his reign battling
Rebels...did he, dying,
Cry out "Why? Why?"
[Note: After Bolingbroke overthrew Richard (whose subsequent
death in custody is a case that has never been solved), he
became Henry IV and spent year after year battling rebels
in Wales, Scotland, England, etc. Rebels often spawn rebels.
To hear the rhyme, pronounce the "II" of Richard
II "aye aye" Reminds me of that song -- perhaps
inspired by a Spanish king, the fourth of his name -- whose
chorus begins "Ay yi yi yi".]