Friday, September 14, 2012

Classic Funny Poems: 'The Briefless Barrister' by John G. Saxe

Here's an old little-known poem by John Godfrey Saxe penned sometime prior to 1857. Although John G. Saxe is most well known for his poem 'The Blind Men and the Elephant', he was a prolific poet and I was delighted to stumble across this gem in an old obscure book. I particularly enjoyed the word-play sprinkled through-out this poem. Note that John Saxe was a barrister by profession, so presumably he knew what he was writing about when he wrote this poem.

      The Briefless Barrister
A Ballad by John G. Saxe (1816 - 1887)

An attorney was taking a turn,
    In shabby habiliments drest ;
His coat was shockingly worn,
    And the rust had invested his vest.

His breeches had suffered a breach,
    His linen and worsted were worse ;
He had scarce a whole crown in his hat,
    And not half-a-crown in his purse.

And thus as he wandered along,
    A cheerless and comfortless elf,
He sought for relief in a song,
    Or complainingly talked to himself :

" Unfortunate man that I am !
    I've never a client but grief ;
The case is, I've no case at all,
    And in brief, I've ne'er had a brief !

" I've waited and waited in vain,
    Expecting an 'opening' to find,
Where an honest young lawyer might gain
    Some reward for the toil of his mind.

" 'Tis not that I'm wanting in law,
    Or lack an intelligent face,
That others have cases to plead,
    While I have to plead for a case.

" O, how can a modest young man
    E'er hope for the smallest progression-
The profession's already so full
    Of lawyers so full of profession !"

While thus he was strolling around,
    His eye accidentally fell
On a very deep hole in the ground
    And he sighed to himself, "It is well !"

To curb his emotions, he sat
    On the curb-stone the space of a minute,
Then cried, " Here's an opening at last !"
    And in less than a jiffy was in it !

Next morning twelve citizens came
    ('Twas the coroner bade them attend),
To the end that it might be determined
    How the man had determined his end !

" The man was a lawyer, I hear,"
    Quoth the foreman who sat on the corse ;
" A lawyer?   Alas! " said another,
    "Undoubtedly he died of remorse !"

A third said, " He knew the deceased,
    An attorney well versed in the laws,
And as to the cause of the death,
    'Twas no doubt from the want of a cause."

The jury decided at length,
    After solemnly weighing the matter,
" That the lawyer was drownded, because
    He could not keep his head above water !"

Excerpted from 'The Humorous Poetry of the English Language' by J. Parton, Mason Brothers, 1857

For more poetic fun, head on over to this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Diane Mayr's Random Noodling Blog.
Happy Poetry Friday!


  1. That is so clever, and such masterful word-play! But considering the title, I really thought it was going to be about his unmentionables. :)

    1. Renee I think that would have caused quite a scandal in 1857 :)

  2. This is the first time I've visited your blog, I love your drawings--I'll be back.

  3. I love these lines -- "That others have cases to plead,
    While I have to plead for a case. " So modern! It could be a George Carlin punchline.

    1. For a 150-year old poem, I definitely thought it had withstood the travails of time very well :)

  4. What a treasure your old book must be - I love knowing that this is by the same author as "The Blind Men and the Elephant." Such fun! Happy PF! a.

    1. Unfortunately I found most of the poems in the book were very painful to read ... this is one of the few standouts...

  5. Once again, another great post! I love the twists you give your poems, Vikram - always surprising!

    1. Hi Matt, I'd have been proud to have written something like this ... but the credit goes to the genious of John G. Saxe ... :)

    2. Oh, yes, - I'm sorry, I'd forgotten it wasn't yours by the time I'd gotten to the end! Shows you how used to your twists I've gotten!

  6. I thought the same thing as Renee -- a poem about underwear. :)

    Enjoyed the poem nevertheless and love your drawings!

  7. I love "The profession's already so full / Of lawyers so full of profession"
    Such funny and clever wordplay.

  8. The puns and word play just don't stop! Very fun!!

  9. What a great post! Thanks so much for sharing, really enjoyed reading it. Can you please visit my page and give me your thoughts?


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