The first poem I ever remember hearing, and certainly the first I ever memorized, was written by Laura Elizabeth Richards, born in 1850. Her father was a social reformer who later gained fame as an abolitionist; he was the founder of the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind. Her mother was the poet Julia Ward Howe, who is best known as the author of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant —
No! no! I mean an elephone
Who tried to use the telephone —
(Dear me! I am not certain quite
That even now I’ve got it right.)
Howe’er it was, he got his trunk
Entangled in the telephunk;
The more he tried to get it free,
The louder buzzed the telephee —
(I fear I’d better drop the song
Of elephop and telephong!)
Which reminds me of my second-favorite Monty Python sketch (my favorite being “Premise and Conclusion”):
Announcer (John Cleese): Tonight on Who Cares? we examine the frontiers of surgery. With us is the international financier and surgeon Reg LeCrisp and his most successful patient to date, the elephant Mr. George Humphries. (Elephant trumpets.) Mr. LeCrisp, the surgery on Mr. Humpries is truly remarkable, but — why an elephant?
LeCrisp (Terry Jones): Well, that was just a stroke of luck, really. An elephant’s trunk became available after a road accident, and Mr. Humphries happened to be walking past the hospital at the time.
A: And what was Mr. Humphries’ reaction to the transplant of the elephant’s organs?
L (interspersed with trumpeting): Surprise at first, then later shock, and deep anger and resentment. But his family were marvelous, they helped pull him through —
A: How long was he in hospital?
L: Well, he spent the first three weeks in our intensive care unit, and then eight weeks in the zoo.
A: I see. . . . Is Mr. Humphries now able to lead a fairly normal life?
L: No. Oh, no, no. No — he still has to wash himself in a rather special way, he can only eat buns, and he’s not allowed on public transport. But I feel these are very minor problems —
A: Mm hmmm.
L: — when you consider the very sophisticated surgery which Mr. Humphries has undergone. I mean, each of those feet he’s got now weighs more than his whole body did before the . . . elephantoplasty, and the tusks alone —
A: Er, some years ago you were the center of, er, controversy both from your own medical colleagues and from the Church when you grafted a pederast onto an Anglican bishop.
L: Well, that’s ignorance of the press, if I may say so. We’ve done thousands of similar operations, it’s just that this time there was a bishop involved. I wish I could have more bishops, I —
A: Is lack of donors a problem?
L: There just aren’t enough accidents. It’s unethical and time-consuming to go out and cause them, so we’re having to rely on whatever comes to hand — chairs, tables, floor-cleaning equipment, drying-out racks, pieces of pottery . . . and these do pose almost insurmountable surgical problems. What I’m sitting on, in fact, is one of our more successful attempts. This is Mrs. Dudley. She had little hope of survival, she’d lost interest in life, but along came this very attractive mahogany frame, and now she’s a jolly comfortable Chesterfield.
A: Mm hmm. I see.
(Sound of car crash — sirens blaring)
L: Oh — excuse me. . . . (Rushes out)