Editor’s Note: This poem was originally found in The Pebbles and Shells: A Book of Verses ,1909, edited by Donald Fraser. Another version was published in The Good Humor Book, by Robert Rango, 1944.

Edited by Beverly Stock

Said little Johnnie to the Owl;
“I’ve heard you’re wondrously wise,
And so I’d like to question you:
Now, please don’t tell me lies.

“The first thing, then, I’d have you tell,
My empty mind to fill,
Pray, what was that awful food,
That made Chicago, Ill.?

“I’ve heard it said, yet do not know—
In fact, it may be bosh–
Then, tell me is it lots of dirt,
That’s makes Seattle, Wash.?

“Another thing I wish I could
Inform my waiting class,
Is just how many priests it takes,
To say the Boston, Mass.?

“This the time of running debts,
As you must surely know;
The secret, then, impart to me:
How much does Cleveland OH?

“It takes great heat the gold to melt,
And iron takes much more;
Then is it true, that way out West,
The rain melts Portland’s OR?

“Some voices are so strong and full,
And some so still and small,
That I have wondered oftentimes
How loud can Denver Col.?”

The Owl scratched his feathered pate;
“I’m sorry, little man;
Ask someone else, I cannot tell,
Perhaps Topeka Kan.!


The Good Humor Book, Rango, (Robert) ed., Good Humor Book. © July 11, 1944; A181729; Harvest House, New York 3891, Catalogue of Copyright Entries, published by Authority of the Acts of Congress of March 3, 1891, of June 30, 1906, and of March 4, 1909, Vol 41, No 7.

Pebbles and Shells: A Book of verses, Page 101, books.google.com>books>id+dP4wAQAAMAAJ
Donald Andrew Fraser-1909.

Beverly Stock is a Poet from the Midwest. Her first book of poetry, The Prayerful Poet, published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, debuted May 12.  Find more of her poetry at BeverlyStockPoetry.com.

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13 Responses

  1. Leo Zoutewelle

    I’m sorry, but I can’t help thinking that this, today, is rather delightful!

  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    This wonderful piece of humor is from a time when poetry was still part of the general public inheritance — when meter, rhyme, wit, clarity, and good diction were part of the intellectual atmosphere, and not something you have to fight for and argue for, as we have to do now.

  3. Monty

    A simple and humorous play on states. I knew six of the seven cities listed, but had to look up Topeka. Upon doing so, it immediately became my favourite of the seven puns.

    I couldn’t help noticing the severe lack of a syllable in S2, L3. It could be simply rectified with the insertion of the word ‘then’:
    ‘Pray, what then was that awful food’.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      The line in question is trochaic. It scans as follows:

      PRAY, what WAS that AWful FOOD

      As long as it has a tetrameter beat, it satisfies all requirements of the form.

  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    A smile-inducing joy of a poem. Thank you for weaving your magic with it and bringing it to our attention, Beverly.

  5. Sultana Raza

    This poem reminds one of a time when people actually wrote formal poems just for fun, while honing their skill at the same time. Agree with Dr Salemi that poetry was ‘public inheritance…’ in the good old days. Thanks for sharing it!

  6. Monty

    If it was your intention, Beverley, to render L7 as a trochee (as you did with L17) then of course you must disregard my initial comment. I realise that such substitutions are permissible in poetry, but that doesn’t stop me feeling that the only purpose they serve is to patently disrupt a reader’s flow – as evidenced by the fact that I came to a complete stop when I encountered that line, in what was an otherwise beautifully-flowing piece.

    I also feel that, in general, the merits for, and validity of, such usages are ambiguous, in the sense that if a reader encounters a 20-line poem, in which 19 lines are purely iambic and 1 line is a trochee, the reader is left thinking: ‘Was that 1 line intentional on the poet’s behalf (in which case it becomes a permissible substitution).. or was it unintentional (in which case it becomes a metrical error)’? I fail to see why a reader should be put in the position of having to guess whether the poet has made an intentional substitution or an unintentional metrical error! Also, if a poet DID use a trochee unintentionally and unwittingly (in which case it becomes a metrical error), it shouldn’t be the case that the poet is instead admired for their use of a substitution. Hence my use of the word ‘ambiguous’.

    For what it’s worth, my feeling is that when such substitutions are used in poetry, they could be done so more uniformly, as in . . in an otherwise 20-line iambic poem of five stanzas, if the last line of a stanza is a trochee, then the last line of EVERY stanza should be a trochee. That way, the reader would be in no doubt of the poet’s intentions.

    (Coincidentally, a couple of days after reading your piece there was a beautifully-written essay submitted to these pages by Adam Sedia [13th July: if you didn’t see it, you should], in which he makes a compelling case for the usage of substitutions in poetry, and cites some illustrious names in the field who were unashamed proponents of said usage. In which case, if your substitutions above WERE intentional, you’re certainly in good company.)


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