Mother Goose for Grownups/The Mysterious Misapprehension Concerning a Man in Our Town

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The Mysterious Misapprehension Concerning a Man in Our Town
by Guy Wetmore Carryl
This poem was published in Carryl’s 1900 anthology Mother Goose for Grownups, of poems that are parodies of Mother Goose nursery rhymes.

There was a man in our town,
      Half beggar, half rapscallion,
Who, just because his eyes were brown,
      Was thought to be Italian:
And, though with much insistence
      He said that people erred,
And bitterly to Italy
      He frequently referred,
            The false report, as is the way
            Of false reports, had come to stay!

So every one who’d been to Rome
      By aid of Cook’s or Gaze’s,
Would call upon him at home
      To flaunt Italian phrases.
“Capite Questa lingua?”
      The inquiry would be:
“Pochissimo? Benissimo!
      Vi prego, ditemi,
            Siete voi contento qua,
            Lontano dall’ Italia?”

The victim, plunged in deep disgust,
      Grew nervous, could not slumber;
Said he, “I’m called Italian, just
      Because my eyes are umber,
And if this persecution
      Is ever to be stopped,
Some stern and stoic, hard, heroic
      Course I must adopt!”
            And so, to everyone’s surprise,
            He calmly scratched out both his eyes!

The neighbors said: “So strange a thing
      Might seem to be an omen.
We thought his wits were wandering,
      But now we know they’re Roman!”
And so at him by legions,
      By bevies, hosts, and herds,
Professors, purists, tramps, and tourists
      Screamed Italian words.
            Perceiving all he’d done was vain,
            He scratched his eyesight in again.

The moral: If your neighbors say
      You’re one thing or another,
You’ll find there isn’t any way
      Their predudice to smother.
What matter if they think you
      From Italy or Greece?
I beg you, treasure no displeasure:
      Bow and hold your peace.
            Like Omar, underneath the bow
            You’ll find there’s paradise enow!