Happy Poetry Friday! 

Thank you to Bridget at wee words for wee ones for hosting this week’s roundup, where you will find a dance party going down!

This week, I was playing around with sounds and meter in an attempt to come up with a nonsense poem, and I wondered …

  • What makes something nonsense verse?
  • Who are the most well-known nonsense poets?
  • Is there a poet who was well-known, but so terrible at writing poetry that people considered his/her work to be nonsense?

Let's discuss! 

After poking around, it became clear to me that there are different interpretations of what qualifies as nonsense verse.  I found multiple descriptions:

  • Comical rhyming poetry (in general),
  • Silly rhyming verse where some of the content doesn’t make sense, such as many nursery rhymes (e.g. Hey-Diddle-Diddle), and
  • Verse where most of the words are made up, and although the overall construct sounds right to the ear, the verse may or may not make sense literally.

In other words, there seems to be a spectrum of nonsense verse ranging from:

              Humorous Verse ------------------------------------------------- Jibberish with rhyme and meter


Edward LearLewis CarrollMervyn PeakeEdward GoreyColin WestDr. Seuss, and Spike Milligan are all listed by Wikipedia as well-known nonsense verse writers.  You may have heard of them all, but if you’d like a refresher, this article has poetry samples from most of them. 

sketch by Edward Lear

This brings me to Lewis Carroll.  “Jabberwocky” is what started me thinking about nonsense.  Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass pack a whole lot of nonsense, and on the surface, “Jabberwocky” sounds like total nonsense.  Here is the first stanza:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

The Jabberwock, illustrated by John Tenniel, 1871

To me, Jabberwocky, feels like reading words in another language.  When strung together, the words feel like they should make sense.  It has a satisfying mouthfeel and flow.  One senses that there is a story line just beyond reach, and indeed there is.  Upon closer inspection, many of the words are blends of two words (portmanteaus), and the story seems to follow a typical hero’s journey.  For an analysis of the poem, look here.  For my taste, nonsense needs to flow and make enough sense to not be completely frustrating.

On to my last question: who is widely regarded as the worst poet of all time?  Several internet articles give that inauspicious honor to William Topaz McGonagall.  How does one become the worst poet?  Well, in McGonagall’s case, he wrote a poem about a bridge collapse and train wreck called “The Tay Bridge Disaster” (and other similarly-crafted works). 

Tay Bridge Disaster, a contemporary rendition, Wikipedia

 “The Tay Bridge Disaster” by William McGonagall starts:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

‘Twas about seven o’clock at night,
And the wind it blew with all its might,
And the rain came pouring down,
And the dark clouds seem’d to frown,
And the Demon of the air seem’d to say-
“I’ll blow down the Bridge of Tay.”

When the train left Edinburgh
The passengers’ hearts were light and felt no sorrow,
But Boreas blew a terrific gale,
Which made their hearts for to quail,
And many of the passengers with fear did say-
“I hope God will send us safe across the Bridge of Tay.”

If you feel so inclined, you can read the rest of the poem here and more about McGonagall here.  I like the article’s reference to his “ill-advised imagery.”

All of the above, led me to write the following …

The Lonestie Wolfree and the Fervile Fletch

A lonestie wolfree hibbed by the swersh,
and foofed per dreebs devay.
She vonged for a titch and a frick-frack-frock,
but her bargle strowed reblay.

One day, she gloamed on a fervile fletch,
and beesh she mooged him sown.
Her mooging varged on the mincey fletch
and tetch belarved him floan.

Yes, agreed – utter nonsense!


  • Nonsense - but a lot of fun. I loved 'mincey fletch' - an evocative phrase.
    Incidentally, your link in the Mr Linky took me to one of your older posts. I'm not sure if you can edit it, but hopefully others will figure it out, like I did.
  • A fascinating study in nonsense, Tracey. Who knew about McGonagall? Love your use of assonance and onomatopoeia. "frick-frack-frock" in your nonsensically fun poem.
    (btw your redirect worked :)
    • Yes, McGonagall was new to me (even though his poems are over 100 years old)!  Thank you for letting me know about the redirect, Bridget!
  • Aren't you having fun with words this week! Lewis Carroll would be proud of your poem. And the worst poet with ill-advised imagery...some days that's me! xo
  • What a fun post. Love your questions!! I used to recite "Jabberwocky" to my freshman English classes to teach wordplay and extracting meaning via context. Your poem is so much fun to read aloud -- quite a mouthful of nonsense words. Like Carroll's poem, an interesting narrative to figure out. Thanks for the McGonagall excerpt. Yes, ill-advised imagery. Poor guy to be considered the worst!
  • Tracey, thanks for the fun with word play. Jabberwocky was always a favorite of mine and I loved watching students trying to figure out what was said. I read your poem out loud and think I can manage what it says. Have a happy weekend. I am ready to untangle the tangles this weekend.
  • Ah, Tracey, lots of fun with the nonsense, & poor McGonagall, trying to rhyme with 'sorrow'! I love that you tried the word creation, can certainly 'hear' a story when I read it aloud! "She vonged for a titch. . ." - a sad note (I think). 
    • Yeah, Linda, that was one I was trying to figure out ... how does Edinburgh rhyme with sorrow?  I listened to the pronunciation here: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Edinburgh and sorta got where he was coming from, but it is a stretch!
  • This was so fun to think about. I have always enjoyed Jabberwocky and tried to think about what it might mean. I like the look and sound of the words and I think you captured some true nonsense, like the last line in your poem "tetch belarved him floan." Nice work. I think it's hard to find interesting words like you have, that seem real but mean nothing. 
  • Tracey,
    This is my type of post! Informational but also fun and inspiring! I love the line of your poem,
    "She vonged for a titch and a frick-frack-frock,"
    And realized that maybe I like it because not all the words are nonsense and this helps me with context. 
    I also like the poem of the "worst" poet -William McGonagall. His words make sense and rhyme. I wonder why sometimes this is acceptable and other times, it's not.  
    Thanks for this enjoyable post!
    • Thank you, Carol!  I agree, there need to be some non-nonsense words (are those sense words?!) to give context.  As for McGonagall, he has some meter, cliche, and imagery issues, but I do think he was in earnest, so perhaps that should count for something?
  • Tracey, what a fun post. You are making me want to try a nonsense poem. McGonagall was new for me. What an interesting reputation to be the "most unintentionally amusing dramatic poetry in the English language," as per the Wikipedia article, although there is no scholar cited for that quote. Your nonsense poem is great fun, and a challenge to read, but read I did--every delightful fun to pronounce new word. It's a great pairing with Carroll's.
    • Please do, Denise!  I would love to see the nonsense you create!  I feel like there are varying levels of effort that could be invested.  One could really put thought into creating blended words and having a masked plot, or one could just play around with sound and have fun putting together words and sounds that interesting together.  I hope you decide to give it a go!

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