Ruthless Rhymes

Ruthless Rhymes


In his book ‘Word Play‘ (Pub. Coronet Books, 2015) Gyles Brandreth talks about his love of short pithy rhymes which he calls ‘Potted Poetry’ or ‘Terse Verse’.  He particularly enjoys those which he calls ‘ruthless’ and which make a pungent point in just 4 lines.  One such which he quotes is:

‘I had written to Aunt Maud
Who was on a trip abroad
When I heard she’d died of cramp –
Just too late to save the stamp.’

He goes on to invite his readers to compose their own ‘ruthless rhymes’.  I doubt if the following could be considered as ruthless as his examples, but here are a few which I managed to create . . .


Winston Hawden Archibald Hughes
Revelled in a life of booze;
One night he downed a bottle of gin,
The landlord rang his next of kin.

I pressed the bell just for a lark,
‘Twas 8 o’clock and after dark.
A lady answered in her nightie,
But sadly she was over ninety.

I longed to kiss her slender neck,
To take a bite not just a peck,
But when I got the chance to do it,
My vampire teeth just weren’t up to it.

Well, tell me now what you would do
If your old man had said to you,
“I no longer want you for a wife” –
I’d stab him with my butter knife.



The original ‘Ruthless Rhymes’ were composed by Harry Graham and his book ‘RUTHLESS RHYMES FOR HEARTLESS PEOPLE’ was published in 1898.  It contains many short rhymes, all wickedly cruel and completely without morals.

Jocelyn Henry Clive ‘Harry’ Graham (1874–1936) was an English writer. He was a successful journalist who is now best remembered as a writer of verse full of black humour.  At the time of publication of this and several follow-up collections of verse written in a similar vein, Harry Graham was compared to W.S.Gilbert, Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. It has also been suggested that his verse and prose, all exhibiting a delight in language, was an early influence on P. G. Wodehouse.  More information on Harry Graham can be found on the Ruthless Rhymes website and on Wikipedia



Penelope Fitzgerald – The Kitchen Drawer Poem

 (Poem No.50 of my favourite short poems)

Kitchen Drawer

‘The Kitchen Drawer’ – Penelope Fitzgerald


The nutcracker, the skewer, the knife,

are doomed to share this drawer for life.

You cannot pierce, the skewer says,

or cause the pain of in one place.

You cannot grind, you do not know,

says nutcracker, the pain of slow.

You don’t know what it is to slice.

to both of them the knife replies,

with pain so fine it is not pain

to part what cannot join again.

The skewer, nutcracker, and knife

are well adapted to their life.

They calculate efficiency

By what the others cannot be

and power by the pain they cause

and that is life in kitchen drawers.

By Penelope Fitzgerald

 Printed in @London Review of Books’ – 3rd October, 2002.


Penelope Fitzgerald (1916 – 2000) was an English Booker Prize-winning novelist, poet, essayist and biographer.  In 2008, The Times included her in a list of “the 50 greatest British writers since 1945”. In 2012, The Observer named her final novel, ‘The Blue Flower‘, one of “the ten best historical novels”.  She also wrote a splendid biography of the Victorian artist Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones.