A Curious Form Of Poetry: Univocalic Poems


Regular readers of Learn Fun Facts may already be familiar with lipograms. In today’s post, I’ll talk about another form of lipogrammatic constrained writing called univocalic.

French author Georges Perec published a 300-page lipogrammatic novel La disparition in 1969. The entire novel did not contain the letter “e”. It seemed that he was saving up all the letter “e’s” for his following work, Les revenentes (1972), wherein he used no vowel but the letter “e”.  This type of constrained writing is known as univocalic.

Univocalic writing is similar to lipogram since, in a lipogram, you omit one or more arbitrary letters in your composition. In univocalic writing, you only use one of the five vowels (A, E, I, O or U). So, it is harder to write a univocalic composition than a normal lipogram because you can only use one of the vowels in your writings.

The following are some good examples of univocalic poems:

Letter A

Anthony Etherin of micropoetry.com wrote this univocalic haiku titled “Crash”:

A parallax arcs
and an astral fracas starts:
Black stars crash and fall.

A poem written in the 19th century was about the Russo-Turkish War cited in The Wild Garland; or, Curiosities of Poetry, Selected by I.J. Reeve, edited by Isaac Jack Reeve (1865). The writer of this poem was unknown though the author credited Notes and Queries at the end:

Wars harm all ranks, all arts, all crafts appall:
At Mars’ harsh blast, arch, rampart, altar, fall!
Ah! hard as adamant, a braggart Czar
Arms vassal swarms, and fans a fatal war!
Rampant at that bad call, a Vandal band
Harass, and harm, and ransack Wallach-land.
A Tartar phalanx Balkan’s scarp hath past,
And Allah’s standard falls, alas ! at last.

Letter E

Newts by Phillip Woddell, cited in Roger Steven’s Is This Poetry? (2016):

They’ve keen eyes,
wee needle teeth,
Newts seek teeny prey.

The very few weeks
when fevered newts breed
they need the wet.

When we see newts,
even newt’s eggs,
let’s let them be.

“The Fall of Eve”, from The Wild Garland, author unknown:

Eve, Eden’s Empress, needs defended be;
The Serpent greets her when she seeks the tree.
Serene, she sees the speckled tempter creep;
Gentle he seems,—perversest schemer deep, —
Yet endless pretexts ever fresh prefers,
Perverts her senses, revels when she errs,
Sneers when she weeps, regrets, repents she fell;
Then, deep revenged, reseeks the nether hell!

Letter I

“The Approach of Evening”, from The Wild Garland, author unknown:

Idling, I sit in this mild twilight dim,
Whilst birds, in wild, swift vigils, circling skim.
Light winds in sighing sink, till, rising bright,
Night’s Virgin Pilgrim swims in vivid light!

“Haiku of Eyes” by Howard Bergenson, cited in Dave Morice’s Alphabet Avenue: Wordplay in the Fast Lane (1997):

In twilight this spring
Girls with miniskirts will swim
In string bikinis.

Letter O

The following poem from The Wild Garland is often attributed to C. C. Bombaugh. However, this poem was published way before Bombaugh’s book:

No monk too good to rob, or cog, or plot.
No fool so gross to bolt Scotch collops hot.
From Donjon tops no Oronoko rolls.
Logwood, not Lotos, floods Oporto’s bowls.
Troops of old tosspots oft, to sot, consort.
Box tops, not bottoms, school-boys flog for sport.
No cool monsoons blow soft on Oxford dons,
Orthodox, jog-trot, book-worm Solomons !
Bold Ostrogoths, of ghosts no horror show.
On London shop-fronts no hop-blossoms grow.
To crocks of gold no dodo looks for food.
On soft cloth footstools no old fox doth brood.
Long storm-tost sloops forlorn, work on to port.
Rooks do not roost on spoons, nor woodcocks snort,
Nor dog on snow-drop or on coltsfoot rolls,
Nor common frogs concoct long protocols.

George Marvill wrote the following poem as an entry for a competition in the New Stateman. In addition to being a univocalic poem, the poem is also a palindrome:

‘Too hot to hoot!’
‘Too hot to woo!’
‘Too wot?’
‘Too hot to hoot!’
‘To woo!’
‘Too wot?’
‘To hoot! Too hot to hoot!’

Ari Lieberman translated a part of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth (specifically Act 5, Scene 5, lines 18-28) into a univocalic composition:

Tomorrow or tomorrow or tomorrow
Plods so slow, so low, from morn to morn,
To jot down lost words, most songs forlorn;
So old moons of sorrow glow for fools,
Food for worms. Go off, go off, short glow!
World of gloom prowls so, poor dolt
Who stomps or slogs so long from door to door,
Soon forgot, soon lost. Words of sorrow
Told to morons, room for howls or storms
So hollow.

Letter U

“The Same Subject, Continued”, from The Wild Garland, author unknown:

Dull humdrum murmurs lull, but hubbub stuns.
Lucullus snuffs up musk, mundungus shuns.
Puss purrs, buds burst, bucks butt, luck turns up trumps ;
But full cups, hurtful, spur up unjust thumps.

Paul Hellweg in “Mary Had A Univocalic Lamb”, Word Ways, Vol. 19, Iss. 3 (August 1986) wrote five univocalic versions of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” for each of the vowels. Here is what he wrote for the letter U:

Murl puts up th’ runt jumbuck,
Th’ jumbuck’ s fluff runs slush-full,
But just such suburbs Mud struts
Thus struts Murl’s jumbuck;
Th’ jumbuck hunts up Murl’s guru,
Th’ guru grunts much fuss;
But truth: Murl’s chums cut fun jumps,
Such luck th’ jumbuck turns up.

Related Posts

Six Mary Had A Little Lamb Lipograms

A Poem Which is Both a Lipogram and a Pangram



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My name Edmark M. Law. I work as a freelance writer, mainly writing about science and mathematics. I am an ardent hobbyist. I like to read, solve puzzles, play chess, make origami and play basketball. In addition, I dabble in magic, particularly card magic and other sleight-of-hand type magic. I live in Hong Kong. You can find me on Twitter` and Facebook. My email is edmarklaw@learnfunfacts.com

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