The Fiend's Delight, by Ambrose Bierce


Ye Idyll of Ye Hippopopotamus.

With a Methodist hymn in his musical throat,

The Sun was emitting his ultimate note;

His quivering larynx enwrinkled the sea

Like an Ichthyosaurian blowing his tea;

When sweetly and pensively rattled and rang

This plaint which an Hippopopotamus sang:

“O, Camomile, Calabash, Cartilage-pie,

Spread for my spirit a peppermint fry;

Crown me with doughnuts, and drape me with cheese,

Settle my soul with a codliver sneeze.

Lo, how I stand on my head and repine —

Lollipop Lumpkin can never be mine!”

Down sank the Sun with a kick and a plunge,

Up from the wave rose the head of a Sponge;

Ropes in his ringlets, eggs in his eyes,

Tip-tilted nose in a way to surprise.

These the conundrums he flung to the breeze,

The answers that Echo returned to him these:

        “Cobblestone, Cobblestone, why do you sigh —

      Why do you turn on the tears?”

        “My mother is crazy on strawberry jam,

      And my father has petrified ears.”

        “Liverwort, Liverwort, why do you droop —

      Why do you snuffle and scowl?”

        “My brother has cockle-burs into his eyes,

      And my sister has married an owl.”

        “Simia, Simia, why do you laugh —

      Why do you cackle and quake?”

        “My son has a pollywog stuck in his throat,

      And my daughter has bitten a snake.”

Slow sank the head of the Sponge out of sight,

Soaken with sea-water-then it was night.

The Moon had now risen for dinner to dress,

When sweetly the Pachyderm sang from his nest;

He sang through a pestle of silvery shape,

Encrusted with custard-empurpled with crape;

And this was the burden he bore on his lips,

And blew to the listening Sturgeon that sips

From the fountain of opium under the lobes

Of the mountain whose summit in buffalo robes

The winter envelops, as Venus adorns

An elephant’s trunk with a chaplet of thorns:

        “Chasing mastodons through marshes upon stilts of light ratan,

        Hunting spiders with a shotgun and mosquitoes with an axe,

        Plucking peanuts ready roasted from the branches of the oak,

        Waking echoes in the forest with our hymns of blessed bosh,

      We roamed-my love and I.

        By the margin of the fountain spouting thick with clabbered milk,

        Under spreading boughs of bass-wood all alive with cooing toads,

        Loafing listlessly on bowlders of octagonal design,

        Standing gracefully inverted with our toes together knit,

      We loved-my love and I.”

Hippopopotamus comforts his heart

Biting half-moons out of strawberry tart.

Epitaph on George Francis Train.

(Inscribed on a Pork-barrel.)

Beneath this casket rots unknown

A Thing that merits not a stone,

        Save that by passing urchin cast;

Whose fame and virtues we express

By transient urn of emptiness,

        With apt inscription (to its past

Relating-and to his): “Prime Mess.”

No honour had this infidel,

That doth not appertain, as well,

        To altered caitiff on the drop;

No wit that would not likewise pass

For wisdom in the famished ass

        Who breaks his neck a weed to crop,

When tethered in the luscious grass.

And now, thank God, his hateful name

Shall never rescued be from shame,

        Though seas of venal ink be shed;

No sophistry shall reconcile

With sympathy for Erin’s Isle,

        Or sorrow for her patriot dead,

The weeping of this crocodile.

Life’s incongruity is past,

And dirt to dirt is seen at last,

        The worm of worm afoul doth fall.

The sexton tolls his solemn bell

For scoundrel dead and gone to-well,

        It matters not, it can’t recall

This convict from his final cell.

Jerusalem, Old and New.

Didymus Dunkleton Doty Don John

        Is a parson of high degree;

He holds forth of Sundays to marvelling crowds

        Who wonder how vice can still be

When smitten so stoutly by Didymus Don —

        Disciple of Calvin is he.

But sinners still laugh at his talk of the New

      Jerusalem-ha-ha, te-he!

And biting their thumbs at the doughty Don–John —

        This parson of high degree —

They think of the streets of a village they know,

        Where horses still sink to the knee,

Contrasting its muck with the pavement of gold

        That’s laid in the other citee.

They think of the sign that still swings, uneffaced

        By winds from the salt, salt sea,

Which tells where he trafficked in tipple, of yore —

        Don Dunkleton Johnny, D. D.

Didymus Dunkleton Doty Don John

        Still plays on his fiddle — D. D.,

His lambkins still bleat in full psalmody sweet,

        And the devil still pitches the key.

Communing with Nature.

One evening I sat on a heavenward hill,

The winds were asleep and all nature was still,

Wee children came round me to play at my knee,

As my mind floated rudderless over the sea.

I put out one hand to caress them, but held

With the other my nose, for these cherubim smelled.

I cast a few glances upon the old sun;

He was red in the face from the race he had run,

But he seemed to be doing, for aught I could see,

Quite well without any assistance from me.

And so I directed my wandering eye

Around to the opposite side of the sky,

And the rapture that ever with ecstasy thrills

Through the heart as the moon rises bright from the hills,

Would in this case have been most exceedingly rare,

Except for the fact that the moon was not there.

But the stars looked right lovingly down in the sea,

And, by Jupiter, Venus was winking at me!

The gas in the city was flaring up bright,

Montgomery Street was resplendent with light;

But I did not exactly appear to advance

A sentiment proper to that circumstance.

So it only remains to explain to the town

That a rainstorm came up before I could come down.

As the boots I had on were uncommonly thin

My fancy leaked out as the water leaked in.

Though dampened my ardour, though slackened my strain,

I’ll “strike the wild lyre” who sings the sweet rain!

Conservatism and Progress.

Old Zephyr, dawdling in the West,

Looked down upon the sea,

Which slept unfretted at his feet,

And balanced on its breast a fleet

That seemed almost to be

Suspended in the middle air,

As if a magnet held it there,

Eternally at rest.

Then, one by one, the ships released

Their folded sails, and strove

Against the empty calm to press

North, South, or West, or East,

In vain; the subtle nothingness

Was impotent to move.

Ten Zephyr laughed aloud to see:—

“No vessel moves except by me,

And, heigh-ho! I shall sleep.”

But lo! from out the troubled North

A tempest strode impatient forth,

And trampled white the deep;

The sloping ships flew glad away,

Laving their heated sides in spray.

The West then turned him red with wrath,

And to the North he shouted:

“Hold there! How dare you cross my path,

As now you are about it?”

The North replied with laboured breath —

His speed no moment slowing:—

“My friend, you’ll never have a path,

Unless you take to blowing.”

Inter Arma Silent Leges.

(An Election Incident.)

About the polls the freedmen drew,

        To vote the freemen down;

And merrily their caps up-flew

        As Grant rode through the town.

From votes to staves they next did turn,

        And beat the freemen down;

Full bravely did their valour burn

        As Grant rode through the town.

Then staves for muskets they forsook,

        And shot the freemen down;

Right royally their banners shook

        As Grant rode through the town.

Hail, final triumph of our cause!

        Hail, chief of mute renown!

Grim Magistrate of Silent Laws,

        A-riding freedom down!


“To produce these spicy paragraphs, which have been unsuccessfully imitated by every newspaper in the State, requires the combined efforts of five able-bodied persons associated on the editorial staff of this journal.”— New York Herald.

Sir Muscle speaks, and nations bend the ear:

“Hark ye these Notes-our wit quintuple hear;

Five able-bodied editors combine

Their strength prodigious in each laboured line!”

O wondrous vintner! hopeless seemed the task

To bung these drainings in a single cask;

The riddle’s read-five leathern skins contain

The working juice, and scarcely feel the strain.

Saviours of Rome! will wonders never cease?

A ballad cackled by five tuneful geese!

Upon one Rosinante five stout knights

Ride fiercely into visionary fights!

A cap and bells five sturdy fools adorn,

Five porkers battle for a grain of corn,

Five donkeys squeeze into a narrow stall,

Five tumble-bugs propel a single ball!


Dawns dread and red the fateful morn —

Lo, Resurrection’s Day is born!

The striding sea no longer strides,

No longer knows the trick of tides;

The land is breathless, winds relent,

All nature waits the dread event.

From wassail rising rather late,

Awarding Jove arrives in state;

O’er yawning graves looks many a league,

Then yawns himself from sheer fatigue.

Lifting its finger to the sky,

A marble shaft arrests his eye —

This epitaph, in pompous pride,

Engraven on its polished side:

“Perfection of Creation’s plan,

Here resteth Universal Man,

Who virtues, segregated wide,

Collated, classed, and codified,

Reduced to practice, taught, explained,

And strict morality maintained.

Anticipating death, his pelf

        He lavished on this monolith;

        Because he leaves nor kin nor kith

He rears this tribute to himself,

That Virtue’s fame may never cease.

Hic jacet-let him rest in peace!”

With sober eye Jove scanned the shaft,

Then turned away and lightly laughed

“Poor Man! since I have careless been

In keeping books to note thy sin,

And thou hast left upon the earth

This faithful record of thy worth,

Thy final prayer shall now be heard:

        Of life I’ll not renew thy lease,

But take thee at thy carven word,

        And let thee rest in solemn peace!”


“For my own part, I must confess to bear a very singular respect to this animal, by whom I take human nature to be most admirably held forth in all its qualities as well as operations; and, therefore, whatever in my small reading occurs concerning this, our fellow creature, I do never fail to set it down by way of commonplace; and when I have occasion to write upon human reason, politics, eloquence or knowledge, I lay my memorandums before me, and insert them with a wonderful facility of application.”— SWIFT.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51