Sometimes you look around at your dinner guests and think, “Here is a worthy group of cultured individuals. These people will appreciate the finest entertainment I can offer them. They are sophisticated, discerning, and uh, whaddayacallit, real classy.” On these occasions, I go to my special shelf and take down the book Pegasus Descending: A Treasury of the Best Bad Poems in English, edited by James Camp, X. J. Kennedy, and Keith Waldrop.
On the hundred and thirty-third page of that precious tome is found the “Ode to a Ditch.” The author is unknown, but the editors tell us that “this memorable piece of protest poetry was rediscovered by Professor Richard Walser in an old issue of the Fayetteville North Carolinian.” Nothing more is known about this classic poem. But we need say no more about it, for it speaks for itself:
Ode to a Ditch
Respectfully Dedicated to the Town Commissioners
Oh, ditch of all ditches,
Death’s store-house of riches,
Where wan disease slumbers mid festoons of slime!
Oh dark fetid sewer,
Where death is the brewer
And ail is the liquor he brews all the time!
Oh, hot-bed of fever,
That fatal bereaver
Whose fiery breath blights the blossom of life!
Oh, palace of miasm
Whose hall is a chasm
Where pestilence revels and poison is rife!
Where, where on the earth,
From the place of Sol’s birth
To the couch of his rest in the cloud-curtained West,
Is a ditch full as thou
Of the treasures which now
The phantom king hides in they green oozy breast?
When Summer’s sun beams,
What glorious steams
From Fever’s foul kitchen, the sewer, will rise
Whose fragrance inhaled
Has never yet failed
Sending wicked men –somewhere– good men to the skies.
What vapors will creep,
In the night when men sleep
From thy cavernous recesses forth to the air;
And go on their mission
To feed the physician
And treat the dry graveyard to noggins of bier!
Oh, trench of all trenches!
Oh, stench of all stenches,
Far worse than the dead quails of Israel and Moses:
To look on thy slough
The lord knows is enough,
But words can’t express the emotions of noses!
Oh, wonderful sewer,
Each year brings a newer
And ghostlier charm to thy cavernous deeps!
More puppies and cats
To say nothing of rats,
And offal and filth of all manner in heaps.