Introduction

The poem ‘The Height of the Ridiculous’ is written by Oliver Wendell Holmes. The poem is about a few humorous lines written by the poet while he was in a merry mood, which he thought people would simply appreciate. However, when his servant read those lines, they had him tumbling on the floor laughing. The portrayal of the servant’s expressions adds to the comedy of the poem. The main purpose of the poem is to entertain the reader.

About the poet

Oliver Wendell Holmes was an American physician, poet, and comedian who was most known for his medical research and teaching. He was born on August 29, 1809, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and died on October 7, 1894, in Cambridge. He graduated from Harvard Law School.

Theme

Throughout the poem, the tone is light and humorous. The poet is normally calm, but this poem made him shriek. He requested his servant to read the poem, which caused his buttons and waistband to tear apart while laughing. However, the poem caused his servant a lot of sleeplessness and unrest that the poet vowed to never write another humorous poem.

Structure 

The poem is divided into eight stanzas with four lines each. The poem shows employment of ballad. A ballad is a four-line stanza which is known as quatrain. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ‘abcb’. 

Stanza 1

I wrote some lines once on a time
In wondrous merry mood,
And thought, as usual, men would say
They were exceeding good.

The poet begins by narrating how he once penned a hilarious poem. And as usual, he believed it was exceedingly good(excellent) and that the audience would like it tremendously.

Stanza 2

They were so queer, so very queer,
I laughed as I would die;
Albeit, in the general way,
A sober man am I.

He described the lines as queer (strange) and laughed like he was about to die, although otherwise he considered himself a sober man. He refers to himself as a sober man, since he used to be a very reasonable and serious person, but he knows his new poetry would make people laugh.

Stanza 3

I called my servant, and he came;
How kind it was of him
To mind a slender man like me,
He of the mighty limb.

Holmes called his servant who arrived. Holmes was extremely respectful of his servants. He calls his servant kind and gracious to be looking after a slender (frail) man like himself. 

Stanza 4

“These to the printer,” I exclaimed,
And, in my humorous way,
I added (as a trifling jest,)
“There’ll be the devil to pay."

“These to the printer,” the poet exclaimed, directing him to print the papers. And, in a humorous way, he continued, “There’ll be the devil to pay.” (Trouble that results from making a bargain with the devil, or pretty much any problem.)

Stanza 5

He took the paper, and I watched,
And saw him peep within;
At the first line he read, his face
Was all upon the grin.

The poet stood there watching as the servant took the paper and peeked inside, his face lit up (grin) as he read the first paragraph.

Stanza 6

He read the next; the grin grew broad,
And shot from ear to ear;
He read the third; a chuckling noise
I now began to hear.

As the servant read further, his grin broadened and spread from ear to ear (widened). He proceeded to read the third paragraph and couldn’t stop himself from chuckling (giggling). The sound of his giggling was audible to the poet.

Stanza 7

The fourth; he broke into a roar;
The fifth; his waistband split;
The sixth; he burst five buttons
And tumbled in a fit

He exploded into a roar (loud laughter) when reading the fourth paragraph. As he approached the fifth, his waistband had split. The sixth paragraph, his shirt’s buttons blew off, and he tumbled into a fit (fell helplessly).

Stanza 8

Ten days and nights, with sleepless eye,
I watched that wretched man,
And since, I never dare to write
As funny as I can.

Oliver Wendell Holmes observed that wretched (miserable) man for ten days and nights with a restless eye. He saw how his poem took an inverse effect on the servant’s condition and he decided that he’d never dare to write a poem as hilarious as this one again.