January 8, 2019 10:27 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for poems by well-known authors with a twist at the end, probably but not necessarily funny.

Here are two examples of what I am looking for. From Samuel Hoffenstein:
Your little hands,
Your little feet,
Your little mouth —
Oh, God, how sweet!

Your little nose,
Your little ears,
Your eyes, that shed
Such little tears!

Your little voice,
So soft and kind;
Your little soul,
Your little mind!
And from A. E. Housman, "Is My Team Ploughing" (too long to include here except by link).

I know this will pick up a lot of Dorothy Parker and Ogden Nash (and I don't mind, I love Dorothy Parker and Ogden Nash), but I'm hoping to find works by better-known poets such as Housman.
posted by ubiquity to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Shel Silverstein was a master of these. I'll just leave Sick here...
posted by Mchelly at 10:30 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]

Otherwise by Jane Kenyon is a little like this.
posted by heavenknows at 10:32 AM on January 8

It sure isn't funny, but Seamus Heaney's "Mid-Term Break" twists the knife at the end in an unexpected way.
posted by dr. boludo at 10:34 AM on January 8 [6 favorites]

Twist; not funny: Richard Cory
posted by pangolin party at 10:36 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]

Plain and simple, Margaret Atwood:

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:41 AM on January 8 [12 favorites]

This isn't a specific poem, but your mentioning Parker made me think that triolets are almost always going to have that twist at the end, because they depend on altering the meaning of a repeated line in a new context. If there's a way to look for poems by form, that might give you a vein of poems to explore.
posted by LizardBreath at 10:42 AM on January 8

Twist; not funny: Richard Cory

Simon and Garfunkel did an adaption of this, if you consider that a poem.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:45 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]

This one does a 180 every stanza. The one at the end sledges it home like the last railroad spike.

During Wind and Rain
Thos Hardy

THEY sing their dearest songs--
He, she, all of them--yea,
Treble and tenor and bass.
And one to play;
With the candles mooning each face....
Ah, no; the years O!
How the sick leaves reel down in throngs!

They clear the creeping moss--
Elders and juniors--aye,
Making the pathways neat
And the garden gay;
And they build a shady seat....
Ah, no; the years, the years;
See, the white storm-birds wing across!

They are blithely breakfasting all--
Men and maidens--yea,
Under the summer tree,
With a glimpse of the bay,
While pet fowl come to the knee....
Ah, no; the years O!
And the rotten rose is ripped from the wall.

They change to a high new house,
He, she, all of them--aye,
Clocks and carpets and chairs
On the lawn all day,
And brightest things that are theirs....
Ah, no; the years, the years;
Down their carved names the raindrop plows.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:48 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]

Many James Tate poems have twists, although often not so literal.

The Ferlinghetti poem "Sometime During Eternity," although the reader already knows the twist.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:49 AM on January 8

The volta or turn is an essential part of traditional sonnet structure; some of the examples linked here might work for you.
posted by praemunire at 10:51 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]

Twist sort of two-thirds of the way through, and not funny: Porphyria's Lover .
posted by LizardBreath at 10:56 AM on January 8

The last line of "Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota" fits the bill precisely.
posted by torridly at 10:58 AM on January 8

A classic - Oliver Goldsmith's 'An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog' (ok, the title spoils the twist)

Good people all, of every sort,
Give ear unto my song;
And if you find it wondrous short,
It cannot hold you long.

In Islington there was a man,
Of whom the world might say
That still a godly race he ran,
Whene'er he went to pray.

A kind and gentle heart he had,
To comfort friends and foes;
The naked every day he clad,
When he put on his clothes.

And in that town a dog was found,
As many dogs there be,
Both mongrel, puppy, whelp and hound,
And curs of low degree.

This dog and man at first were friends;
But when a pique began,
The dog, to gain some private ends,
Went mad and bit the man.

Around from all the neighbouring streets
The wondering neighbours ran,
And swore the dog had lost his wits,
To bite so good a man.

The wound it seemed both sore and sad
To every Christian eye;
And while they swore the dog was mad,
They swore the man would die.

But soon a wonder came to light,
That showed the rogues they lied:
The man recovered of the bite,
The dog it was that died.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 10:59 AM on January 8

Dorothy Parker wrote plenty of things that take a twist, generally a sardonic one, at the end. To wit, The Red Dress:

I always saw, I always said
If I were grown and free,
I'd have a gown of reddest red
As fine as you could see,

To wear out walking, sleek and slow,
Upon a Summer day,
And there'd be one to see me so
And flip the world away.

And he would be a gallant one,
With stars behind his eyes,
And hair like metal in the sun,
And lips too warm for lies.

I always saw us, gay and good,
High honored in the town.
Now I am grown to womanhood....
I have the silly gown.
posted by Smearcase at 11:00 AM on January 8

Carol Ann Duffy's Warming her Pearls kind of has a twist too...

Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress
bids me wear them, warm them, until evening
when I'll brush her hair. At six, I place them
round her cool, white throat. All day I think of her,

resting in the Yellow Room, contemplating silk
or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself
whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering
each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.

She's beautiful. I dream about her
in my attic bed; picture her dancing
with tall men, puzzled by my faint, persistent scent
beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.

I dust her shoulders with a rabbit's foot,
watch the soft blush seep through her skin
like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass
my red lips part as though I want to speak.

Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see
her every movement in my head.... Undressing,
taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching
for the case, slipping naked into bed, the way

she always does.... And I lie here awake,
knowing the pearls are cooling even now
in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
I feel their absence and I burn.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 11:00 AM on January 8

Keat's Eve of St Agnes' has a kind of time twist at the end ('And they are gone: ay, ages long ago/These lovers fled away into the storm.'
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 11:03 AM on January 8

I worry about you-
So long since we spoke.
Love, are you downhearted,
Dispirited, broke?

I worry about you.
I can't sleep at night.
Are you sad? Are you lonely?
Or are you all right?

They say that men suffer,
As badly, as long.
I worry, I worry,
In case they are wrong.

Wendy Cope
posted by Heloise9 at 11:04 AM on January 8 [9 favorites]

This poem was included in the anthology that was our text in high school. So even though the author is by definition not well-known, apparently the poem is quite well-known.


There's the wonderful love of a beautiful maid
And the love of a staunch true man,
And the love of a baby that's unafraid--
All have existed since time began.
But the most wonderful love, the Love of all loves,
Even greater than the love for Mother,
Is the infinite, tenderest, passionate love
Of one dead drunk for another.

posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 11:33 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]

My Last Duchess by Browning might work, depending on how near the end the twist needs to be. I read this out loud in a class I was teaching, and one of my students audibly gasped.
posted by FencingGal at 11:50 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]

oh, along the same lines as Richard Cory, and again if you're accepting songs...

Here Lies Lenora Jennings
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:12 PM on January 8

The meaning of the turn in the brief, meditative “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” is widely debated. But you seem to know what it means, even though you can’t say.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:43 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]

Casey at the Bat.
posted by Melismata at 12:56 PM on January 8

Ogden Nash Adventures of Isabel:
Isabel met an enormous bear,
Isabel, Isabel, didn't care;
The bear was hungry, the bear was ravenous,
The bear's big mouth was cruel and cavernous.
The bear said, Isabel, glad to meet you,
How do, Isabel, now I'll eat you!
Isabel, Isabel, didn't worry.
Isabel didn't scream or scurry.
She washed her hands and she straightened her hair up,
Then Isabel quietly ate the bear up.
posted by agatha_magatha at 1:02 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

A Birthday Present by Sylvia Plath
posted by toastedcheese at 1:51 PM on January 8

This has always been a favorite for me:


Maybe our failed hopes rise like tulips
out of the cold ground,
and, when we look around,
there their satin bowls are, chocolates,

and swaying, velvety clarets, aglow
with memories of help we thought would
appear and beliefs we watered.
And we do have something to show,

goblet-like reminders of our stubborn
labors – or we don’t, and refuse
odorless flowers and choose
to live without consolation.

Mark Halperin
posted by dlugoczaj at 2:32 PM on January 8

"The Raven" By Edgar Allen Poe.

These Victorian poets might not qualify as "better known", and I would not call them literary geniuses, but, I think they were popular at some point:
James Henry Leigh Hunt "Abou Ben Adhem "
Edward Sill "The Fool's Prayer"
posted by rhonzo at 3:26 PM on January 8

Steven Vincent Benet is another one who is not so well-known nowadays, but I think you may enjoy his Metropolitan Nightmare. It's easy to read as a "global warming" poem, until you realize it was written in 1933. And, oh my, that last line....
posted by Weftage at 4:01 PM on January 8

It was a year ago, September
a day I well remember
I was walking down the street in drunken pride
when my knees began to flutter
and I fell down in the gutter
and a pig came by and lay down by my side

As I lay there in the gutter
thinking thoughts I could not utter
I thought I heard a passing lady say,
"You can tell a man who boozes
by the company he chooses..."
Then the pig got up and slowly walked away

(Irish poem with several claims on authorship)
posted by tzikeh at 5:16 PM on January 8

Refugees - Brian Bilston

They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way

(now read from bottom to top)
posted by chappell, ambrose at 7:17 PM on January 8 [4 favorites]

One of my favorites:

The Cremation of Sam McGee
---- Robert W. Service
posted by Preserver at 8:25 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]

Not funny: "The Parable of the Old Man and the Young" by Wilfred Owen.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:17 AM on January 9

Irish drinking song, but still ... The Scotsman's Kilt.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 12:22 PM on January 11

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