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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:

Tippeca Nippeca,
William H. Harrison
("H" is for Henry) was
Born to be bold,

Won bloody battles, was
President briefly, then
Died of a cold.

Huffity Puffity,
Theodore Roosevelt
Labored to breathe through his
Tight-chested wheeze;

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.]

Mummily Pummily,
George, Earl of Carnovan,
Famed Egyptologist,
Dug up King Tut's

Golden Sarcophagus.
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.]

Verily Merrily,
Took over Babylon,
Glory and fame.

In the Old Testament
He rates two mentions -- great
What was that name?

Diddlely Piddlely,
Samuel Richardson's
Pamela's Pummeled and
Pawed by Lord B;

Yet She's elated to
Wed him, turns weeping to
Epithalamium --

[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 her.]

Hoogoody Doogoody,
Eleanor Roosevelt
Held that Black Marian
Anderson should

Sing to us all at the
Lincoln Memorial,
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 performance.]

Wallaway Fallaway,
Marian Anderson
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.]

Henery Venery,
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."]

Loffitty Boffity,
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.]

Hogandy Bogandy,
Anthony Hillerman
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

Hoppity Coppity,
Anthony Hillerman's
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.]

Hoightily Toightily,
Spencer C. Cavendish --
Liberal Unionist --
How could it be

Epiphenomenal --
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.]

Howshouldee Bowshouldee,
John, Earl of Rochester,
Worn out with wenching, just
Had to unwind,

Polished his verses un-
Til they reflected him,
Skewering mankind.

Didgery Dodgery,
Marquis of Queensbury
(John Sholto Douglas) loved
Manly pursuits.

Wilde he reviled for his
Promiscu-wittiness --
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.]

Hottomly Bottomly,
Marquis of Queensbury,
Pugilist rule-maker,
Rule your own child!

"Nonsense," said Alfred, "I
Will not be ruled!" Then he
Ran wild with Wilde.

Hungaree Dungaree,
Marquis of Queensbury,
Cursed Oscar Wilde,

Claiming he'd ruined Young Al.
Oscar was ruined instead,
Feeling defiled.

[Note: This poem manages to fit in TWO double dactyl words.]

Criminy Bliminy,
James, Earl of Cardigan
Charged with his Light Brigade:
Glory and gore;

Badly he'd blundered; yet --
Unmilitarily --
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.]

Bingedy Bangedy,
President Kennedy
Never caught hell for his
Screwing around.

Clinton got blasted...but
Clinton's alive; JF-
K's underground.

[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.)]

Hookity Crookity,
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.)]

Meddily Deddily,
Jacqueline Kennedy
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.]

Plunkity Monkity,
Lead-Guitar Harrison
Yearning for sacredness,
Eastward did roam,

Dodging the clutch of fans
Knowing deep down that there's
No place like Om.

Moldigo Boldigo,
President Kennedy
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, etc.]

Hoppity Boppity,
Hopalong Cassidy's
Films, unlike Roy's, are all
Plain black-&-whites;

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!]

Maidely Laidely,
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.]

EM-ily Femmily –
Emily Dickinson –
Though shy and proper, was —
Covertly – brash!

Immersed in Amherst – how
Quicken her quatrains? Her
Impetuosity --
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.]

Wobbledy Gobbledy
President W
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.]

Hickensy Dickensy
Somber Miss. Havisham
Sits in the dark with her
Mouldering cake.

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 him.]

To The Unknown Professor:

Pompity Clompity
Prose, professorial,
Splits finest hairs with a
Rather dull knife;

Prose stuffed with quibbles, quite
Simulates life.

[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.]

Filthily Fourthily
Henry of Bolingbroke
Probably murdered King
Richard II;

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".]


Last updated: January 7, 2006