“For, even as he besought her, she slid into the water”

~ by John Hall Wheelock

A hippopotamus had a bride
Of rather singular beauty,
When he lay down at her side
‘Twas out of love, not duty–
Hers was an exceptional beauty.
Take, oh take those lips away, etc.

He met her in Central Nigeria,
While she was a resident there,
Where life is distinctly superior,
And a hippo can let down her hair–
And, God, but she was fair!
Take, oh take those lips away, etc.

She was coming up from her morning swim
When first they chanced to meet:
He looked at her, she looked at him
And stood with reluctant feet
Where mud and river meet.
Take, oh take those lips away, etc.

Their eye-beams, twisted on one thread,
Instantaneously did twine,
And he made up poetry out of his head,
Such as, Dear heart, be mine–
And he quoted, line for line,
Hail to thee, blithe spirit, etc.

Now, hippopotamoid courtesy
Is strangely meticulous–
A beautiful thing, you will agree,
In a hippopotamus–
And she answered, briefly, thus:
Hail to thee, blithe spirit, etc.

Perhaps she was practicing the arts
That grace Old Hippo’s daughter,
The coquetries that win all hearts,
For, even as he besought her,
She slid into the water.
Out, out, brief candle, etc.

Now, on the borders of the wood,
Whence love had drawn him hither,
He paces in an anguished mood,
Darting hither and thither
In a terrific dither.
Out, out, brief candle, etc.

The course of true love never yet
Ran smooth, so we are told,
With thorns its pathway is beset
And perils manifold,
So it was from of old.
Out, out, brief candle, etc.

Yet soon a happier morning smiles,
The marriage feast is spread–
The flower girls were crocodiles,
When hippopotamus led
Hippopotamus, with firm tread,
A bride to the bridal bed.
Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour.


“Take, oh take those lips away” is from Measure For Measure, Act IV, Scene I, by William Shakespeare. “Eye-beams twisted…” is from The Ecstasy by John Donne. “Hail to thee, blithe spirit!” is from To A Skylark by Percy Bysshe Shelley. “Dear Heart…” perhaps echoes “Dear Heart, how like you this?” in They Flee From Me by Thomas Wyatt. “The arts that grace Old Hippo’s daughter” alludes, I believe, to a woman of antiquity, Hippo, depicted by Bocaccio as legendary for chastity. “Out, out, brief candle!” is from a soliloquy in Act V, Scene V of Macbeth by Shakespeare, Macbeth lamenting Lady Macbeth’s demise. “The course of true love never yet ran smooth” is from Act I, Scene I of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare. Milton! Thou shouldst be living at this hour” is from London, 1802 by William Wordsworth.  

And, very zanily, “the flower girls were crocodiles,” seems plainly to allude to the animated film Fantasia.  (John Hall Wheelock published this poem in 1961.) Epithalamium is a poem of the bride on her way to the marital chamber, thus “Hippopotamothalamium” is .. well, you know what it is.  When I first found this piece by Wheelock I went to look for more light verse by him, but he apparently wrote few such pieces. Indeed, he was known for a sort of pious neo-Wordsworthian verse, polished and learned, but not so much fun.  Near the end of his career Wheelock said this piece was one of his favorites.  I think he may have been inspired to write this work by the hilariously looney Hippo Ballet sequence of the Walt Disney film. Thank God something cracked him up!


Author: MDM

Michael Dennis Mooney is a student of humor and witticism in verse. At this site he is compiling a selection of the best works using extended metaphor in poetry, with a special interest in satire, parody, and humor. Suggestions are welcome. Send your citations of favorites, by email, to mike.mooney.home@gmail.com He has a site "New Writings" at http://jcbcast.blogspot.com And a site for essays, 'His Epistles To The Philistines" at http://tothephilistines.wordpress.com

One thought on ““For, even as he besought her, she slid into the water”

  1. Hi,

    I’m developing this site to be a compendium of notable witticism in English verse, particularly via extended metaphor. This is my first post on the site, which I’m still designing. A lot will change, including the site name, I should think.

    My plan, right now, is to add new piece every few days, once or twice a week, until I have a fairly comprehensive anthology here.

    I’m very interested in receiving by email the favorite pieces of anyone that wants to contribute. My email address is:


    Also any comments on the pieces posted are welcome, including any suggested notes, edits, corrections, et al.

    ~ MDM

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