Tag Archives: folk tales

Wholesome Verse for the Little Children [“Little Willie” and “Brats” Poems] (Installment 1)

Before sharing my contributions to the venerable “Little Willie” and “Brats” traditions, I want to provide a brief history of the forms from William Baer’s Writing Metrical Poetry:

In 1899, the British author Harry Graham, under the pseudonym Col. D. Streamer, published a little book entitled Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes….As his tiles promised, the poems…were ruthless little black-humor poems, which often included violence or death, often at the expense of children. Graham’s fiendish poems, which clearly poked fun at both British reserve and human insensibility, delighted the British public…This little poem [“Tender-Heartedness,” included below] spawned countless imitations, and (like the limerick) the numbers of Little Willie poems wax and wane over the years…the poems, always composed of two tetrameter couplets, begin with “Little Willie” or just “Willie.” [188-89]


Billy, in one of his nice new sashes,

Fell in the fire and was burnt to ashes;

Now, although the room grows chilly,

I haven’t the heart to poke poor Billy.


An anonymous example:

Little Willie full of hell

Pushed his sister in the well

Said his mother drawing water

“It’s so hard to raise a daughter.


Describing “brats” poems, Baer notes that “the first line of these couplet poems (usually composed in quatrains) generally contains the name of the bratty child who, with the next three lines, faces the music” (189).

Baer provides the following example from X.J. Kennedy:

Stupid little Lucy Wankett

Washed her automatic blanket

while the thing was still plugged in.

Notify her next of kin.

I take credit for being the sick bastard behind the rest of the “Little Willie” and “Brats” Poems posted here. To make iambic tetrameter flow more smoothly, I have often changed “Willie” to “Will.”

[Little Willie] “Playing with Father’s Gun”

Willie showed his siblings Father’s gun.

“Oh, Russian Roulette sounds like fun!”

Exclaimed his sister Mary Lynn.

Will said, “You first. I hope you win.”

[Little Willie] “An Apple for Teacher”

An apple Will gave Missus Cox
While smiling like a hungry fox.
As teacher swallowed her first bite,
Will quipped, “I hope you’ve seen Snow White!”

[Little Willie] “Five, six/Pick up Sticks”

Will thought he’d grabbed a slimy stick
Until he felt a painful prick.
For Will had made the big mistake
Of picking up a rattlesnake.

[Little Willie] “The Itsy, Bitsy Spider”

Willie once thought it’d be a hoot
To hide a spider in Dad’s boot.
Dad’s body’s been of little use
Since meeting Willie’s brown recluse.

[Little Willie] “Who?”

For Will it was a hoot and howl
To murder sis then, like an owl,
Respond by saying only, “Who?”
When asked by Mom, “Where’s Mary Lou?”

[Little Willie] “Playing with Rubber Bands”

Will thought no game to be as grand
As pulling taut a rubber band.
‘Til back at him a band did fly
And left him with a useless eye.

[Brats] Jake’s Snake

One day to school was brought by Jake
A very large constrictor snake.
He found himself in quite a squeeze
With Boa Bob around his knees.

[Brats] Brett […whose malicious mother’s words sound mild compared to the things I have heard some of my students say about their children…]

Incontinent was little Brett.
His mother said, when quite upset,
“To your bed, I’ll tie you down.
Keep on wetting, and you’ll drown.”