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11 Poets Who Wrote Dirty Verse

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Think poets are just stodgy writers who sit at their desks penning boring poems? Think again. Here are eleven poets who sometimes showed their bawdier sides.

1. T.S. Eliot

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Eliot had a reputation for being a stodgy poet, but he’s one of the most well-known Modernists and responsible for some of the most widely read poems in the English language (The Waste Land and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock being two of his most famous). But in his early years he wrote a series of scatological limericks including the racist caricature of a well-endowed ruler named “King Bolo.” One of the stanzas reads:

King Bolo’s Royal Body Guard
Were called ‘The Jersey Lilies’—
A bold and bestial set of blacks
Undaunted by syphilis.
They wore the national uniform
Of a garland of verbenas
And a pair of big black hairy balls
And a big black hairy penis.

Another example of Eliot’s latent dirty verse is in his poem The Triumph of Bullsh*t. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the poem, which was not published during Eliot’s lifetime, as the first use of the word “bullsh*t.” It ends with the following stanza:

And when thyself with silver foot shalt pass
Among the Theories scattered on the grass
Take up my good intentions with the rest
And then for Christ’s sake stick them up your ass.

2. John Donne

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Donne is considered to be the most prominent member of the Metaphysical poets, a group of seventeenth century British lyricists who used complex metaphors called “conceits” in sonnets and poems about topics like love or religion. Though he became an Anglican priest in 1615 and was later appointed Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, he spent much of his early years as an educated womanizer. Maybe his early experiences helped him when writing these eloquently cheeky lines from To His Mistress Going to Bed:

Come, Madam, come, all rest my powers defy,
Until I labour, I in labour lie.
The foe oft-times having the foe in sight,
Is tired with standing though they never fight.
Off with that girdle, like heaven’s come glistering,
But a far fairer world encompassing.
Unpin that ‘spangled’ breastplate which you wear,
That th’ eyes of busy fools may be stopped there.

And later:

By this these angels from an evil sprite,
Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.
License my roving hands, and let them go
Before, behind, between, above, below.

3. Robert Burns

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This trailblazer of the Romantic Movement is also the national poet of Scotland, and is even known as “The Bard” in his native land (take that Shakespeare!). But Burns is probably best known by students as that poet who wrote in that weird Scots dialect you can’t really understand.

You may know that we sing the lyrics to his poem Auld Lang Syne every New Year’s Eve, and that his poem, Comin’ Thro’ the Rye, is the children’s song misinterpreted by Holden Caulfield in JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye—but you probably didn’t know it has a more explicit version.

The traditional verse of one of the stanzas is like this:

  Gin a body meet a body
    Comin thro' the grain,
Gin a body kiss a body,
   The thing's a body's ain.
Comin’ thro’ the rye, etc.

While the dirty version of the same stanza reads like this:

Gin a body meet a body
   Comin’ thro’ the grain,
Gin a body f**k a body,
   C**t’s a body’s ain.
Comin’ thro’ the rye, etc.

In the dialect Burns uses, “gin” means “if” and “ain” means “own,” but those other words, well, they’ll just have to speak for themselves.

4. Ovid

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Known for his long narrative poem the Metamorphoses, Ovid is one of the best writers in all of Latin literature. His mastery of the elegiac couplet is unparalleled, and his writing greatly influenced everyone from J.M.W. Turner to Miguel de Cervantes. But who knew he was kind of a perv? Ovid's first completed book of poetry, Amores, is a poetic account of a love affair with a high-class lady named Corinna. Here is a selection from that book's In Summer’s Heat:

Then came Corinna in a long, loose gown,
Her white neck hid with tresses hanging down,
Resembling fair Semiramis going to bed,
Or Lais of a thousand wooers sped.
I snatched her gown, being thin the harm was small,
Yet strived she to be covered therwithal,
And, striving thus as one that would be chaste,
Betrayed herself, and yielded at the last.
Stark naked as she stood before mine eye,
Not one wen in her body could I spy.
What arms and shoulders did I touch and see?
How apt her breasts were to be pressed by me?
How smooth a belly under her waist saw I?
How large a leg, and what a lusty thigh?
To leave the rest, all liked me passing well;
I clinged her naked body, down she fell.
Judge you the rest. Being tired, she bade me kiss.
Jove send me more such afternoons as this.

5. John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester

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Despite being a courtier of King Charles II in the 17th century, John Wilmot was one of the most notorious rakes in British history. He spent some time in the Tower of London for plotting to kidnap a young countess who refused his hand in marriage, impersonated a gynecologist in order to examine young women without provoking their husbands’ suspicions, and produced poetic works of such depravity that they were all virtually banned during the Victorian era. Here are a couple of selections from his poem about a lovely little walk in the park called A Ramble in St. James’ Park:

Much wine had passed, with grave discourse
Of who f**ks who, and who does worse
(Such as you usually do hear
From those that diet at the Bear),
When I, who still take care to see
Drunkenness relieved by lechery,
Went out into St. James’ Park
To cool my head and fire my heart.

But though St. James has th’honour on ‘t,
‘Tis consecrate to pr**k and c**t.
There, by most incestuous birth,
Strange woods spring from the teeming earth.

And:

And nightly now beneath their shade
Are buggeries, rapes, and incests made.
Unto this all-sin-sheltering grove
Whores of the bulk and the alcove,
Great ladies, chambermaids and drudges,
The ragpicker, and heiress trudges.
Carmen, divines, great lords, and tailors,
Prentices, poets, pimps, and jailers,
Footmen, fine fops, do here arrive,
And here promiscuously swive.

6. Jonathan Swift

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The Irish writer of Gulliver’s Travels is perhaps the greatest satirist ever. He is, after all, the man who mockingly suggested that the poor Irish population might ease their troubles by selling their children as food for upper class English ladies and gentlemen in A Modest Proposal. His poem The Lady’s Dressing-Room is also ingeniously hyperbolic, and tells of a man named Strephon who sneaks into his mistress Celia’s empty dressing room to fawn over his ideal image of her only to find himself repulsed by what he finds. Here are a couple of stanzas:

To stinking smoke it turns the flame,
Poisoning the flesh from whence it came,
And up exhales a greasy stench
For which you cursed careless wench:
So, things which must not be expressed
When plumped into the reeking chest
Send up an excremental smell
To taint the parts from whence they fell:
The petticoats and gown perfume
And waft a stink around every room.
 
Thus, finishing his grand survey,
The swain, disgusted, slunk away,
Repeating, in his amorous fits,
Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia sh*ts.

7.  W.H. Auden

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The Funeral Blues writer’s influence was debated throughout his life among early twentieth century literary types in his native England, especially in the shadow of other poetic giants like T.S. Eliot. But the New York School of poets, including John Ashbery, later embraced him. In this section from his poem Babies in Their Mothers’ Arms, he writes about, ahem, "self-love":

With the Duchy of his mind:
All his lifetime he will find
Swollen knee or aching tooth
Hostile to his quest for truth;
Never will his pr**k belong
To his world of right and wrong,
Nor its values comprehend
Who is foe and who is friend.

8. ee cummings

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Cummings embraced various avant garde styles in his poetry, and would let Dada and surrealism influence his writing after he visited Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. Like many of his poems, she being Brand foregoes many rules of English syntax, but its explicit car metaphors don’t leave much to the imagination. Here's a section:

(having
thoroughly oiled the universal
joint tested my gas felt of
her radiator made sure her springs were O.

K.)i went right to it flooded-the-carburetor cranked her

up,slipped the
clutch (and then somehow got into reverse she
kicked what
the hell) next
minute i was back in neutral tried and

again slo-wly;bare,ly nudg. ing(my

lev-er Right-
oh and her gears being in
A 1 shape passed
from low through
second-in-to-high like
greasedlightning) just as we turned the corner of Divinity

avenue i touched the accelerator and give

her the juice,good

9.  Seamus Heaney

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Ask any literary type who the best living poet is, and Heaney’s name will inevitably be in the mix. The winner of countless literary awards, including the 1995 Nobel Prize, he was called “the most important Irish poet since Yeats” by former Poet Laureate Robert Lowell. But Heaney is also known to sometimes write suggestively cheeky poetry as well. His poem Victorian Guitar includes the epigraph “Inscribed ‘Belonged to Louisa Catherine Coe before her marriage to John Charles Smith, March 1852’,” and features the following stanzas: 

Louisa Catherine Smith could not be light.
Far more than a maiden name
Was cancelled by him on the first night.
 
I believe he cannot have known your touch
Like this instrument – for clearly
John Charles did not hold with fingering—
 
Which is obviously a lady’s:
The sound-box trim as a girl in stays,
The neck right for the smallest span.
 
Did you even keep track of it as a wife?
Do you know the man who has it now
Is giving it the time of its life?

10. John Berryman

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Berryman won the 1965 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his nebulous, semi-autobiographical collection of poems, 77 Dream Songs, which follows an unfortunate series of events in the life of a main character, who bears a resemblance to Berryman, named Henry. The ever-evolving poems are known for their unusual phrases and changes in perspective. Also, they’re sometimes dirty in an abstract way. Take, for example, Dream Song 4:

Filling her compact & delicious body
with chicken páprika, she glanced at me
twice.

Fainting with interest, I hungered back
and only the fact of her husband & four other people
kept me from springing on her
 
or falling at her little feet and crying
'You are the hottest one for years of night
Henry's dazed eyes
have enjoyed, Brilliance.' I advanced upon
(despairing) my spumoni.--Sir Bones: is stuffed,
de world, wif feeding girls.
 
-Black hair, complexion Latin, jewelled eyes
downcast . . . The slob beside her feasts . . . What wonders is
she sitting on, over there?
The restaurant buzzes. She might as well be on Mars.
Where did it all go wrong? There ought to be a law against
Henry.
-Mr. Bones: there is.

11. Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine

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The absinthe-tinged love affair between Rimbaud and Verlaine is the stuff of literary legend. The 17-year-old Rimbaud wrote to the 27-year-old Verlaine—whose wife was pregnant at the time—and soon moved into their home in Paris in 1871. Shortly after, the two lovers fled to London and lived in relative squalor, spending days on end at the Reading Room in the British Museum because the pens and ink were free. Their relationship grew extremely bitter, and eventually came to an end after Verlaine was sentenced to prison for shooting Rimbaud and wounding him in the left wrist. Rimbaud would end up writing influential classics such as A Season in Hell before abandoning poetry altogether at 20. During their travels in London, the two collaborated on a sonnet called Lines on the Arsehole, a ribald tribute to, um, the anus. Verlaine contributed an octet and Rimbaud contributed a sestet. Here are some salacious sections from both poets.

Verlaine:

Crumpled like a carnation, mauve and dim
It breathes, cowering humbly in the moss
Still wet with love which trickles down across
The soft slope of white buttocks to its rim.

Rimbaud:

My mouth mates often with this breathing-hole.
While matter goes and comes, my jealous soul
Makes tawny tears there in its next of sighs

Sources:  The Faber Book of Blue Verse, edited by John Whitworth; Inventions of the March Hare - Poems 1909-1917 by TS Eliot and edited by Christopher Ricks; Poets.org.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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