The Norton Book of Light Verse (1986)
edited by Russell Baker

Comment Summary

Humorist Russell Baker (with the assistance of Kathleen Leland Baker) selected for The Norton Book of Light Verse about 400 pages worth of funny poems by over 200 poets and songwriters.

Russell Baker won a 1983 Pulitzer prize for biography and a 1979 Pulitzer prize in journalism for distinguished commentary.

The collection wears well, usefully divided into named sections:

  1. Twentieth century blues. 20 poems by Auden, MacNeice, Kinnell, Piercy, Ginsberg, Nash, Coward, and others.
  2. Arts and letters. 56 poems by Wilbur, Hecht, W.S. Gilbert, Thackeray, Ben Jonson, Nemerov, Koch, and others.
  3. Some fun with the mother tongue. 14 poems.
  4. Only human. 22 poems by Dickinson, Burns, Byron, Roethke, Betjeman, and others.
  5. Life's losers. 22 poems by Dorothy Parker, A.E. Housman, and others. The Housman poem is quite different from his usual offering, being [pp.142-143]:

    "Hallelujah!" was the only observation
    That escaped Lieutenant-Colonel Mary Jane,
    When she tumbled off the platform in the station,
    And was cut in little pieces by the train.
       Mary Jane, the train is through yer:
       Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
    We will gather up the fragments that remain.

  6. Personalities. For fans of Wagner or Gropius or Werfel, the Tom Lehrer song "Alma" is one of this section's stars. Also pretty good is this one from the heavily represented poet Anonymous [p.162]:

    Nietzsche is pietsche 
    But Sartre is smartre.

  7. Food and drink.
  8. Occupations and preoccupations.
  9. Money, money, money. Richard Wilbur's "Summer Morning" is both funny and wise.
  10. Ports of call. "Trials of a Tourist" by Anne Tibble is a delight.
  11. Love. "Helen" (starting "So, how was I to know") by James Harrison sorts out the Helen-of-Troy story.
  12. Family pleasures. "Careless Talk" by Mark Hollis is particularly good for its brevity and its hint of menace; also a delight is another winner by A.E. Housman [pp.302-302]:

    As into the garden Elizabeth ran
    Pursued by the just indignation of Ann,
    She trod on an object that lay in the road,
    She trod on an object that looked like a toad.
    Elizabeth, saved by the soul of her boot,
    Escaped her insensible sister's pursuit;
    And if ever hereafter she irritates Ann,
    She will tread on a toad if she possibly can.

  13. P.G. [Parental Guidance]. 29 poems.
  14. Nature's blessings. 22 poems.
  15. Beastly things. 29 poems.
  16. Words to live by. 35 poems.
  17. Bile. 29 poems.
  18. Departures. 24 poems.

A concise 8-page Introduction and 23 pages of indices help you find poems by first line, title, and author.

Also see: 100 Great Poems Of the Twentieth Century

* Summary. * Poets.


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