9 of the Weirdest Poems You Will Ever Read

In Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams outlines the three worst styles of poetry in the universe: 3) that of the Vogons; 2) that of the Azoths of Kria; and 1) that of Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings in Greenbridge, England. Since Adams has already got bad poetry covered, let’s take a look at some of the weirdest poetry in history. (In Earth’s history, anyway.)

While some may associate “weird” with “modern” when it comes to art, you might be surprised to see how many of these were written in the seventeen- and eighteen-hundreds, long before being weird was even cool. In chronological order, here nine of the top contenders.

1. Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Albatross

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1798 poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a rambling 636-line work about a grizzled old sailor who crashes a wedding ceremony and talks the ear off one of the guests.

As his story goes, the mariner was a member of a sailing crew that suffered a terrible demise: the wind stopped, the sun baked, the sea turned slimy, and everyone died of dehydration (but him). The crew then became re-animated à la Curse of the Black Pearl and manned the ship back to land – where it sank, condemning the mariner to a lifetime of survivor’s guilt and therapy bills.

Why? All because he shot a bird.

Before you put down that turkey sandwich, remember that this wasn’t just any bird; it was the ship’s lucky albatross, which had a knack for finding good wind and fair weather.

After shooting it with his crossbow – for inconceivable reasons that he never explains – the mariner is forced to wear its dead body around his neck as a reminder of his complicity in his shipmates’ suffering.

212 years later, people are still using the expression “the albatross around your neck” to describe things that will dog you or weigh down your conscience.

2. Mister Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Start Running for the Hills

Porphyria’s Lover”, by Robert Browning

Robert Browning’s 1836 poem “Porphyria’s Lover” is a dramatic monologue about taking refuge from a storm with the person you love most. Nestled in a cottage in the woods, the narrator and his beautiful Porphyria cozy up by the fire and gaze longingly at each other.

Realizing that Porphyria loves him, the narrator decides to preserve the Kodak moment by strangling her with her own hair. He then kisses, props up, and sits beside her dead body, admiring its loveliness through the rest of the night. So much for everything you thought you knew about Victorian love poetry.

Describing all the ways in which this poem classifies as weird doesn’t seem like the best use of time, so let’s just stick with the theme of voyeurism for now.

“Porphyria’s Lover” is written in the first person, meaning the reader is temporarily forced into the narrator’s head. Experiencing this twisted a frame of mind should make any sane person want to take a long, well-lit shower.

So what does this say about Robert Browning’s own lovelife? Actually, Browning was happily married to Elizabeth Barrett – who, incidentally, is best known for writing “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…” about Robert. Guess there’s a lot to be said for the attraction of opposites.

3. Five Servings a Day Just Got Creepier…

Goblin Market”, by Christina Rossetti

Published in 1862, Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” is probably the most intensely detailed poem about goblin fruit-vendors that you’ll ever read. (It maxes out at a whopping 567 lines.)

The poem follows Laura and Lizzie, two young sisters struggling with the temptation to eat delicious-looking fruit sold by goblins from unknown lands.

Although Lizzie stands strong, Laura eventually succumbs to their exotic delights, ingesting poison in the process. Gradually, she becomes listless, thin, and gray-haired, forcing Lizzie to face the goblins and save her sister from a slow death. The poem is either an allegory demonstrating the power of sisterhood or a very early cautionary tale about buying locally.

Although Rossetti often said it was intended for children, the poem is so weirdly sexual that we expect an eyeshadowed, spandex-wearing David Bowie to turn up at any minute and proclaim himself Goblin King.

Some examples: Laura “suck[s]” of the forbidden fruit “until her lips [are] sore”; when Lizzie sister confronts the goblin vendors, they “beset” her like “bee[s]” pollinating an “orange-tree”; Lizzie is then compared to “a royal virgin town” being attacked by an army that wants “to tug her standard down.” Get the picture?

We’ll be the first to admit that people can get carried away with this “erotic undertones” business, but for a supposed kids’ story, this is pretty suggestive stuff.

4. In Uffish Thought by the Tumtum Tree

Jabberwocky”, by Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll’s 1872 poem “Jabberwocky” is some the most famous gibberish ever written in the English language… kind of.

Of the poem’s 166 words, 43 aren’t actually nineteenth-century English, but are in fact Carroll’s own invention. (As a mathematician, he’d point out that this comes to more than 1 in every 4 words.)

If Carroll can write poetry that’s popular, critically acclaimed, and almost 26% meaningless, he must be doing something right. Right?

Perhaps what’s weirdest about “Jabberwocky” is that it actually makes a lot of sense; Carroll’s invented words play enough with real English that we get an intuitive feel for the poem without having to think too hard.

The bandersnatch sounds like an animal that can snatch you up bandit-style. The Jabberwock burbles as it moves, which could easily be a sort of gurgling noise. The hero’s father chortles, which sounds like a mixture of a chuckle and a snort. (If you think this isn’t a made-up word because you’ve heard it before, think again; it didn’t exist before 1872.)

Of course, the Jabberwock itself calls to mind not only the jabbing of a sword, but also the useless jabber of pointless conversation – or, of nonsensical poetry.

Considering that the whole idea behind poetry is to convey meaning through sound, “Jabberwocky” is actually a brilliant work of art.  We only wish the other poems on the list were this straightforward.

5. Semicolon = ??

In a Station of the Metro”, by Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” has one of the longest titles in poetry – relative to the length of the poem, anyway.

In 1912, Pound was in the metro station at La Concorde in Paris when he had a deeply spiritual experience. He wanted to capture the moment in a painting, but since he was no painter, he wrote 30 lines of verse instead.

Realizing that the poem was too drawn-out, he attempted a shorter version six months later but was still unhappy with the result.

Another six months after that, Pound finally found the exact words he was looking for. All 14 of them.

The poem reads:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.

The end.

The premise behind the two seemingly unconnected phrases is that of equation. After all, why bother with wordy descriptions and weak similes when you can reveal the exact nature of a thing by simply juxtaposing it with a second thing? (Think internet lingo. Ex. “you = fail.”)

Almost a century later, critics still go crazy over the poem, basing entire careers on the exact significance of the semicolon.

However, if this poem’s succinct beauty is exactly what you look for in literature, Ezra Pound is not for you. Most of the rest of his poems are immensely long, not to mention riddled with other languages.

6. the good, the bad,           and wee

in Just-”, by E.E. Cummings

E.E. Cummings’s “in Just-” is the only poem on this list that has the honor of not only being strange, but looking strange as well.

In addition to being a poet, Cummings was a painter, which made him more interested in poetry’s visual format than your average lit guy or gal. As a result, Cummings’s works are instantly recognizable for their unruly grammar, odd spacing, and unpredictable line breaks.

And if you think this looks pretty wild today, just imagine what it was like when “in Just-” was published in 1923.

The poem is about children romping in the springtime. According to many interpretations, it’s also about the inevitable and somewhat creepy end of innocence.

The children’s youthful, hyperactive glee is expressed through the rapid succession of words like “eddieandbill come / running from marbles and / piracies.” Set in opposition to the happy children is a “queer / old balloonman” whose actions are appropriately slowed down: he “whistles / far          and             wee / and bettyandisbel come dancing.”

Our gut tells us that this “goat-footed” guy doesn’t portend well for the youngsters, which perhaps explains the title’s double meaning: “in Just- / spring” might mean spring that has just sprung, or it might refer to the “injustice” of young lives destined to wither and fade.

7. Soup! – There It Is

“Oda al Caldillo de Congrio”, by Pablo Neruda

Nobel prize-winning Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda is known for his expansive, sensual writing style, and his 1954 “Oda al Caldillo de Congrio” is no exception. It soars. It triumphs. It… outlines a recipe?

For those of us who don’t speak Spanish, the title translates to “Ode to the Conger Chowder,” which, as Neruda lovingly explains, is made from garlic, onion, tomato, shrimp, cream, conger eel, and love – lots of it.

Wriggling sea beasties have never sounded so good.

Neruda writes, “que entre el congrio / y se sumerja en gloria, / que en la olla / se aceite / se contraiga y se impregne.”

Roughly translated, that’s: “let the conger enter to be submerged in glory, to be oiled, shrunk, and impregnated in the pot.”

We’ll have what he’s having.

Delicious though the recipe may be, we can’t help but ask ourselves, why the worshipful tones? As Neruda sees it, conger chowder is to Chile what wine is to France or pasta is to Italy.

A much loved patriot in his lifetime, Neruda famously considered himself of the Chilean people – and whatever the people ate, Neruda venerated.

8. I Yam What I Rutabaga

Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape”, by John Ashbery

Published in 1966, John Ashbery’s “Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape” is a long, complex poem written in the style of a 12th-century French sestina.

Oh yeah, and it’s about Popeye. The sailor man.

The scene is set in Popeye’s apartment, the cast of characters includes Wimpy, the Sea Hag, Swee’pea, and Olive Oyl, and the word “spinach” appears no less than seven times.

At the end of the poem, Popeye “chuckle[s] and scratche[s] his balls,” remarking that it “sure was pleasant to spend a day in the country.” AP English, eat your heart out.

“Farm Implements” is one of those rare works of literature that leaves you unsure whether to laugh or crack open a dictionary; just when you never thought you’d hear the words “Popeye,” “henceforth,” and “salubrious” together in the same sentence, Ashbery decided it would be fun to mix high poetry with pop culture.

Think of it as the poetic answer to Andy Warhol’s soup cans and Technicolor Marilyn Monroes; perhaps this explains why the title that sounds like it belongs to a highfalutin oil painting.

9. A Writer Named Who?

“A Boy Named Sue”, by Johnny Cash Shel Silverstein

Among the experiences that many American children have in common is reading Where the Sidewalk Ends, a collection of offbeat poems that brilliantly play with words and poetic conventions.

As teens and adults, we then go through a Johnny Cash phase that involves singing Cash’s line “My name is Sue! How do you do!” at our windshields while stopped in traffic.

What most of us don’t realize, however, is that “A Boy Named Sue” is actually written by Shel Silverstein, the selfsame children’s writer who penned Where the Sidewalk Ends. And you thought those “Rock and Roll for Babies” CDs were innovative.

According to his autobiography, when Cash performed the song at San Quentin State Prison in 1969, he barely knew the lyrics – let alone how it would go over with the inmates. After all, how often do you hear songs about men who have complexes from being named after women? (Songs that are recited rather than sung, no less.)

Fortunately for our cathartic driving experiences, the song went on to spend weeks on the Billboard Top 100 and become one of Cash’s best known recordings.

43 thoughts on “9 of the Weirdest Poems You Will Ever Read

  1. Christina Rossetti is probably best remembered by most people for her poem “In the Bleak Midwinter.” It was later set to music by Gustav Holst and is regarded by many to be one of the finest, most reverent Christmas Songs in existence.

  2. I would argue against the inclusion of Jabberwocky in this list. I’d always realised that the poem “Twinkle Twinkle little bat” was a parody of “Twinkle Twinkle little star” because the original is a poem which nearly every child learns.

    Some years ago I remarked upon this to an academic friend, who then informed me that all the poetry in Alice is in the form of parody of other poems.

    Of all the poems in Alice, Jabberwocky is my favourite, and, as you say, despite the huge number of nonsense or made-up works in the poem, it has a power and meaning which seems to transcend the mere sense of the words, to convey an atmosphere, a feeling, and an emotion. It’s a poem which rewards learning by heart and demands one should declaim it. It’s not weird. It’s genius.

  3. Sam’s Inn-o-sent children feel:
    Mike-hell Jack-son Why-ten-ing

    Never mind.
    Nth-ever mine.

    Re-defy-N.E.’s white Way.
    Sam’s [Re-Ed-U-kA.-
    Shun] schools Pad-dull or Maulest
    children or Mall-east

    children un-till trick or treats
    make citizens’ test.

    To raise Sam’s Coke-Cain
    [imp-(E.R.-)Sin-Ate] reign.

    Con-stitch-2-shun Amen-damn-meants
    sons Sent
    to Re-Form
    schools and then to barred soft porn
    [Co-or-Wreck-Shun Face-Silly-Tea’s
    {Re-(V.A.ah-’)ll-V.-ing Doors.}]

  4. methinks you have put together a list of great poems, and still missed the point completely. poetry is supposed to be weird, unintelligible at first glance, odd in form or even in meter, shorter than the title and expressing the very most obscure of emotions. that’s what separates it from prose, so picking the “weirdest poems” and forgetting all about beat poetry, haiku, and ah screw it, why am i bothering?

  5. hahahahahaha my teacher made us read the goblin market in class as a comparison to a book we were reading. my teacher scoffed at someone who’s theory was that she was raped.

  6. My professor’s theory is that the girl was raped by the goblins, and she and her sister were lesbians.

    Being taught by the faculty advisor for the LGBTQ Pride Alliance is an interesting experience.

  7. How can this list leave off A Modest Proposal? It’s about eating the children…. you can’t get weirder than that.

  8. If I’m not mistaken “A Modest Proposal” was not a poem. I think it was something of a mock pamphlet.

  9. A Modest Proposal was definitely not a poem. It was more like an essay.

    This is a really good list.

  10. This is not a good list. This is a terrible list. Most of these poems are great and off the top of my head I can think of 3 or 4 poems that are much wierder. This sounds like a list from someone who wanted to make a list, and hadn’t read any poetry…

  11. Pingback: Wandering Wednesday: Weird, Even weirder, and inspiration! « Poetik Line Sense

  12. @Fee Berry: Honey, who in the world ever told you that genius was NOT weird?

  13. I am surprised that Wallace Stevens Emperor of Ice Cream did not make this list.

  14. Pingback: Six Neat Things » GMAT prep and other stuff

  15. “Oh freddled gruntbuggly/thy micturations are to me
    As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee.
    Groop I implore thee, my foonting turlingdromes.
    And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles,
    Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts with my blurglecruncheon, see if I don’t!”

  16. Refuting this list is silly. For one, it is the author’s opinion as to what makes a poem weird; two, they said a list of weird, not bad. It is ridiculous and stunted to automatically equate weird with bad.

    In the intro- “Since Adams has ALREADY got BAD poetry covered, let’s take a look at some of the weirdest poetry in history.”

  17. There is always the geek poem:

    !*”#
    ^”`$$-
    !*=@$_
    %*~#4
    &[]../
    |{,,SYSTEM HALTED

    It reads like:

    Waka waka bang splat tick tick hash,
    Caret quote back-tick dollar dollar dash,
    Bang splat equal at dollar under-score,
    Percent splat waka waka tilde number four,
    Ampersand bracket bracket dot dot slash,
    Vertical-bar curly-bracket comma comma
    CRASH.

  18. Just a note about Lewis Carrol’s Jabberwocky, he does offer definitions for every nonsense work in Through the Looking Glass. Humpty Dumpty tells Alice their meanings.

  19. So, about “Porphyria’s Lover” by Robert Browning, he didn’t ‘strangle’ her. It is called a metaphor (as I am sure any person familiar with literature will understand). Lines 21 through 25: “Murmuring how she loved me–she / Too weak, for all her heart’s endeavor, / To set its struggling passion free / From pride, and vainer ties dissever, / And giver herself to me forever.” Browning was referring to how his lover’s heart was not for him alone, though she came to him when the ‘storm’ raged (the ‘storm’ is often considered a metaphor for a tumultuous time in the lover’s life) and sought his comfort and warmth. So he “debated what to do” (line 35). Lines 36 through 41: “That moment she was mine, mine, fair, / Perfectly pure and good: I found / A thing to do, and all her hair / In one long yellow string I wound / Three times her little throat around, / And strangled her.” This metaphor relates to how he won her heart for him forever. “I am quite sure she felt no pain.” (line 42) lets one presume that he found a less than violent way to win her heart, albeit with a morbidly vivid metaphor. A better poem by Robert Browning to display a weird quality would undoubtedly be “My Last Duchess” in which the arrogance of the narrator displayed when he speaks of his late wife leads readers to believe that she passed in all too unnatural means. That coupled with the way he not so subtlety objectifies women leads it to an all more disturbing set of images.

  20. A Modest Proposal = satirical essay, not poetry. And definitely not about eating babies. Sure, it’s what Swift wrote about, but that’s truly not what the essay is “about.”

    Love the choices here – especially Carroll, Rossetti and Coleridge. And Pound too, though not “weird” in the sense the others are, I like that it was included.

  21. how about DH Lawrence’s poem about whale sex:

    They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains
    the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent.

    All the whales in the wider deeps, hot are they, as they urge
    on and on, and dive beneath the icebergs.
    The right whales, the sperm-whales, the hammer-heads, the killers
    there they blow, there they blow, hot wild white breath out of
    the sea!

    And they rock, and they rock, through the sensual ageless ages
    on the depths of the seven seas,
    and through the salt they reel with drunk delight
    and in the tropics tremble they with love
    and roll with massive, strong desire, like gods.
    Then the great bull lies up against his bride
    in the blue deep bed of the sea,
    as mountain pressing on mountain, in the zest of life:
    and out of the inward roaring of the inner red ocean of whale-blood
    the long tip reaches strong, intense, like the maelstrom-tip, and
    comes to rest
    in the clasp and the soft, wild clutch of a she-whale’s
    fathomless body.

    And over the bridge of the whale’s strong phallus, linking the
    wonder of whales
    the burning archangels under the sea keep passing, back and
    forth,
    keep passing, archangels of bliss
    from him to her, from her to him, great Cherubim
    that wait on whales in mid-ocean, suspended in the waves of the
    sea
    great heaven of whales in the waters, old hierarchies.

    And enormous mother whales lie dreaming suckling their whale-
    tender young
    and dreaming with strange whale eyes wide open in the waters of
    the beginning and the end.

    And bull-whales gather their women and whale-calves in a ring
    when danger threatens, on the surface of the ceaseless flood
    and range themselves like great fierce Seraphim facing the threat
    encircling their huddled monsters of love.
    And all this happens in the sea, in the salt
    where God is also love, but without words:
    and Aphrodite is the wife of whales
    most happy, happy she!

    and Venus among the fishes skips and is a she-dolphin
    she is the gay, delighted porpoise sporting with love and the sea
    she is the female tunny-fish, round and happy among the males
    and dense with happy blood, dark rainbow bliss in the sea.

  22. What about “The Eve of St. Agnes” by Keats? Similar to Browning’s poem “Porphyria’s Lover” in that they are both Romantic poems written around the same time, except the synopsis of this poem is that a man sneaks into the bed chamber of a virgin girl while she’s sleeping and tricks her into believing she’s dreaming of her future husband (him) when really he is just creeping around her room and molesting her. Then they run away together because she thinks she loves him, since she “dreamed” about him.

  23. Transmitted Frequencies
    by Dovin Melhee
    ———————–

    Intricately, the mutant plazmosaurs impossibly modulate oozing trailer parks.
    “While massive mainframes do encrypt,” confesses the cosmic spectre.

    When transducers from Neptune zap forbidden experiments with a billion brains,
    then who will drip warm microdots?

    “Information segments download,” gargles the interplanetary inner voice.

    Trembling transmitted frequencies become glimmering.
    The endless dormant crackling energy speaks, “atrophied.”

    If translucent recurring protoplasmas tweak squirming embryonic data streams,
    then will spherical neural worms enhance?

    Recurring Nixon-zombies inter-dimensionally befuddle the relics spacetime continuum,
    which doth artificially freeze-dry sub-light neural code snippets from Planet-X.

    The mechanical man tragically automates mutant nematodes, after the data segments drink.
    Events transform.

    “Neural worms infect dark microdots”, radiates the temporal in-candescant space vortex.

    Astro-vampires zap glowing illusions of doom,
    while mutant organisms of nothingness mind-numbingly melt with gamma-rays.

    The omnicron gurgles, “If all-powerful isotopes eternally distill symbionts,
    then super code snippets existentially devour.”

    Agents can integrate in eons to electronically infect ephemeral machines,
    and cryogenically fuse vestigial curmudgeons.

    Mutant cyborgs of chaos have been ordered to needlessly saturate all-knowing shadows,
    to spontaneously regenerate the gothic objects.

    Ephemeral atomizers ominously encode mutant hippies, while the beta protoplasm will deep-fry.

    Symbolic aliens become variant. Abstractions tragically melt,
    but the neural fissures ping mutant mad scientists at the heart of the universe.

    When mindless sparks ping, then who will manipulate space drones?

    The asymptotes have been ordered to assiduously drink chromatic ideas.
    “Dormant alternatives are ancient,” sputters forth the translator.

    “Ethereal,” whispers the vessel.
    A few flying saucers mathematically devastate 3D realms.

    The androids spurn star seeds.
    Many data fissures can squirt the computer banks to brilliantly modify isomorphic facsimiles,
    while continuing to prehistorically bubble glimmering coils with a million eyes.

    ———————

    if you enjoyed this, please try the novel :-)

    http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/nspace/7534554

    copyright © 2011 by Dovin Melhee
    all rights reserved

    [email protected]

  24. e.e. cummings…my wife’s favorite. i bought a signed book last year by him entitled ‘a dialogue between santa claus and death’. odd?…yes…inspired?…certainly.

  25. I disagree with the inclusion of e. e. cumming’s “in Just-,” not because it’s not weird, but because “l(a” is much weirder.

  26. “A little note” is wrong about “Porphyria’s Lover.” It’s literal: he strangles her. That’s how he can keep her in the ultimate moment, when she confesses her love for him. Creepy as hell. If it’s a metaphor, what’s it a metaphor for? Sex is strangulation? That doesn’t exactly fit the situation, does it? Obviously, some people go in for that sort of thing, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what Browning means, here. Why else does he support her drooping head on his shoulder instead of its supporting itself? The only thing I can’t quite make sense of is how it is that her cheek blushes again after he’s strangled her. . . . .

  27. re: Ezra Pound:

    Pound was heavily, heavily influenced by Oriental poetry in general, but specifically Classical Chinese regulated verse and Japanese haiku, and essentially made an entire poetic school (Transcendentalism) out of trying to replicate the characteristics of those styles of poetry in English. The juxtaposition between two initially unrelated images is pretty bog-standard for most Chinese regulated verse, and I believe a similar thing is used in at least some Japanese poetry.

  28. I read this for a laugh….and then realised I have included the first six in various essays for EngLit :P

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