Humour Poetry

20,000 Leagues under the Sea

By Rhys Hughes

I assumed that the leagues

were vertical

and that the Nautilus dived

precisely that number

down, and not

knowing what a league was

I remained without

concerns, but

then I happened to look up

the word in a

dictionary and my brow

wrinkled in a

frown as profound as the

boundless ocean.


A league is approximately

three miles long,

the distance that an average

man can walk in

one hour (he is walking

to see the flowers

of a distant garden?) Pardon

my confusion but

when I worked it out, it was

clearly impossible

for any sealed vessel to drop

20,000 leagues

through the waters of the sea

and put itself to

bed on the slimy abyssal plain.

The deepest trench

is only two and a quarter

leagues down.


The Nautilus would pass right

through the Earth

and emerge from the other side

and continue out

into space. The crew would see

only stars through

the porthole windows. No! This

simply couldn’t be

the case. In my haste I must have

misinformed myself.


I did the calculations again but to

my dismay they came

out the same way and I now began

to grow angry with

Jules Verne. What a cad! To play

with distance this

way would drive me mad. And so

I turned away from

his books. I learned to cook as an

alternative pursuit

and burned myself once or twice

on bubbling sauce

to be eaten with rice. But this has

nothing to do with

Captain Nemo. It wasn’t his fault.


The years swam past

like fish and I forgot my confusion

amid the tides and

surges of everyday life. It was a day

like any other when

the truth erupted inside me, boiling

my mind, bubbling

and bursting: a submerged volcano.


20,000 leagues under the sea, yes!

but horizontally! That

was the meaning. And I stopped to

stare dreaming at the

blue sky, another sea above me, the

clouds for ships and

people the fish in the depths, squids

and urchins, whales

of a time and quarrel reefs. Why did

it never occur to me

before? Jules Verne you are forgiven.

Am I forgiven too?


(And the walking man finally reaches

the sunken garden

where the anemones bloom)


Rhys Hughes has lived in many countries. He graduated as an engineer but currently works as a tutor of mathematics. Since his first book was published in 1995 he has had fifty other books published and his work has been translated into ten languages.



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