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The Distracted Centipede -- Anonymous

Guest poem submitted by Gregory Marton:
(Poem #1664) The Distracted Centipede
 A centipede was happy quite,
 Until a frog in fun
 Said, "Pray, which leg comes after which?"
     This raised her mind to such a pitch,
          She lay distracted in the ditch
 Considering how to run.
-- Anonymous
I took a friend back home to Hungary this past week, and in teaching her
Hungarian, and in the simultaneous translation, I oft forgot for a few
moments how to speak either language!  She appraised my predicament with
this apt and catchy limerick, and I am the richer for it.

I have seen several titles " The Puzzled Centipede", "The Frog and the
Centipede", "The Poor Worm", "The Centipede Poem", and several minor
variants: "figuring how to run", "Pray tell which leg...", a/the in several
places, his/her mind and so on. The indentation is mine, and feel free to
quash it.  I was unable to find attribution, as were the editors of the
Oxford Book of Verse for Children, according to one second-hand source:
        [broken link]

[And a few minutes after sending us the original submission, Gremio adds:]
In fact, I find some more variants and titles, when I search without "frog".
The antagonist is often a toad and sometimes a bird.  I hadn't realized how
devious it is of either predator to distract its prey until I read it with a
bird.  This page emphasizes the point, by cleverly (I'm giving benefit of
the doubt) substituting "Prey" for "Pray":
        [broken link]

I also read in several places:
        This raised his doubts to such a pitch
        He fell distracted in the ditch
        Not knowing how to run.

This has been (probably mis-)attributed to Marion Quinlan Davis here:
and to Allan Watts here:


44 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Catherine Pegg said...

I've also heard it called: 'The Centipede's Dilemma'.

Andy Pepperdine said...

I'm about to go to a philosophy group discussion on humour this evening,
and this poem came to mind from my school days. I made a parody, and
then looked it up in an old book. Finally, a quick search on the net
found your site.

Here's my contribution:

A philosophical difficulty
(with apologies[1])

A philosopher was happy quite,
Until a yob began to chaff
“Why's this funny, but not that there?”
It caught his mind in such a snare
He lay distracted in a chair
Not knowing how to laugh.



[1] Craster, Mrs. E., Yet More Comic and Curious Verse (ed J.M. Cohen),
page 83, Penguin, 1959.

A centipede was happy quite,
Until a frog in fun
Said, “Pray, which leg comes after which?”
This raised her mind to such a pitch,
She lay distracted in a ditch
Considering how to run.

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