Dixon Lanier Merritt? Ogden Nash? Jeff McLemore? Bennett Cerf? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: A comical poem about the pelican uses a creative rhyming scheme with the word “pelican” matched to the invented words “belican” (belly can) and “helican” (hell he can). Would you please explore the provenance of this work?
Quote Investigator: The “Nashville Banner” newspaper of Tennessee published a long-running column by Dixon Lanier Merritt called “Along the By-Paths”. The column dated April 22, 1913 included a poem about a pelican; however, Merritt disclaimed credit for the work. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1
Post card poetry doesn’t appeal much to the By-Paths but the following came from Clarksville. A gentleman received it from his best girl. It is pretty good—for Clarksville—even to have been received there. Take it for what it is worth:
Oh, a wondrous bird is the pelican!
His beak holds more than his belican.
He takes in his beak
Food enough for a week.
But I’ll be darned if I know how the helican.
Merritt’s disclaimer meant that the authorship of the limerick was anonymous, and it remains so. Yet, in modern times it has often been incorrectly ascribed to Merritt.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1913 April 22, Nashville Banner, Along the By-Paths by Dixon Merritt, Quote Page 8, Column 6, Nashville, Tennessee. (Newspapers_com) ↩