O memory! that which I gave thee
To guard in thy garner yestreen -
Little deeming thou e'er could'st behave thee
Thus basely - hath gone from thee clean!
Gone, fled, as ere autumn is ended
The yellow leaves flee from the oak -
I have lost it for ever, my splendid
Original joke.

What was it? I know I was brushing
My hair when the notion occurred:
I know that I felt myself blushing
As I thought, "How supremely absurd!
"How they'll hammer on floor and on table
As its drollery dawns on them - how
They will quote it" - I wish I were able
To quote it just now.

I had thought to lead up conversation
To the subject - it's easily done -
Then let off, as an airy creation
Of the moment, that masterly pun.
Let it off, with a flash like a rocket's;
In the midst of a dazzled conclave,
Where I sat, with my hands in my pockets,
The only one grave.

I had fancied young Titterton's chuckles,
And old Bottleby's hearty guffaws
As he drove at my ribs with his knuckles,
His mode of expressing applause:
While Jean Bottleby - queenly Miss Janet -
Drew her handkerchief hastily out,
In fits at my slyness - what can it
Have all been about?

I know 'twas the happiest, quaintest
Combination of pathos and fun:
But I've got no idea - the faintest -
Of what was the actual pun.
I think it was somehow connected
With something I'd recently read -
Or heard - or perhaps recollected
On going to bed.

What HAD I been reading? The Standard:
"Double Bigamy;" "Speech of the Mayor."
And later - eh? yes! I meandered
Through some chapters of Vanity Fair.
How it fuses the grave with the festive!
Yet e'en there, there is nothing so fine -
So playfully, subtly suggestive -
As that joke of mine.

Did it hinge upon "parting asunder?"
No, I don't part my hair with my brush.
Was the point of it "hair?" Now I wonder!
Stop a bit - I shall think of it - hush!
There's HARE, a wild animal - Stuff!
It was something a deal more recondite:
Of that I am certain enough;
And of nothing beyond it.

Hair - LOCKS! There are probably many
Good things to be said about those.
Give me time - that's the best guess of any -
"Lock" has several meanings, one knows.
Iron locks - IRON-GRAY LOCKS - a "deadlock" -
That would set up an everyday wit:
Then of course there's the obvious "wedlock;"
But that wasn't it.

No! mine was a joke for the ages;
Full of intricate meaning and pith;
A feast for your scholars and sages -
How it would have rejoiced Sidney Smith!
'Tis such thoughts that ennoble a mortal;
And, singing him out from the herd,
Fling wide immortality's portal -
But what was the word?

Ah me! 'tis a bootless endeavour.
As the flight of a bird of the air
Is the flight of a joke - you will never
See the same one again, you may swear.
'Twas my firstborn, and O how I prized it!
My darling, my treasure, my own!
This brain and none other devised it -
And now it has flown.