WASHINGTON — Several weeks ago, in an effort to lose as many readers as possible, I rewrote old jokes into Elizabethan sonnets. The results were unsatisfactory; readers seemed to like them. My editor and I decided the problem was that "the sonnet" was too broad a category to be truly alienating.
I should have required readers to know specific poems.
The Captain's Red Shirt, in the style of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
I met an ancient mariner
A sot who lurched and swerved,
And burbled out the strangest tale
Of a captain he once served:
"As lookout, it was I who spied
A pirate ship ahead
The captain turned to me and spake:
'Go fetch my shirt of red.'
"Quick he donned the crimson cloak
And to war the men he led.
We bravely fought, and in the end
The cutthroats all were dead.
"The second day there were two ships
That flew the skull and bones.
Again, the shirt. Again we sent
Them down to Davy Jones.
"That night I asked the bosun's mate
About the scarlet shirt.
He said: 'It's there to mask the blood
In case the Captain's hurt.
" 'He doesn't want the men to see
Lest they lose heart, and run.'
This seemed to me the bravest thing
A captain's ever done.
"The next day: seven pirate ships!
I watched the captain frown
Then turn to me and speak these words:
'Go fetch my pants of brown.' "
The Dirty Parrot, in the style of The Raven
by Edgar Allan Poe
Late one midnight in my garret, as I sat with my pet parrot
Who was munching on a carrot on her perch beside the door,
Suddenly there came a "crap"-ing,
And a #&@!ing and a @+#!ing,
With such plucking and such clucking,
Words that gentlemen abhor,
Words like these, and nothing more.
"Stop your screeching," I said, scowling,
"Blast you, fowl, who is fouling
English with your fetid yowling."
This I said, and said no more.
Still she cussed, as it did please her
Causing me to reach and seize her
And entomb her in the freezer,
Punishment both swift and sure.
This I did, and did no more.
But in seconds I relented, of this violence I repented.
My reaction was demented, this I knew and knew for sure
So I opened up the door, resolv'd to punish her no more.
Though spared torment, she stopped cursing!
Started pleasantly conversing, suddenly dispersing
Language fit for parlor, language fit for church and pew.
Solemnly I then inquired, what, dear birdie, has inspired
Such a sweet and soft and wondrous sort of change in you?
She had no answer, just a query, just a sad and eerie query
Which she asked in such a quaver that it touched me through and through:
"Kindly tell me," quoth the parrot, "what did that poor chicken do?"
Gene Weingarten can be reached at email@example.com. Chat with him online at noon Oct. 26 at www. washingtonpost.com.