Countdown 2020, day 14: containing the wolf

Only 14 more days till the end of 2020, and with breaking news of the months-long government cyber attack, there are ever more reasons to be anxious. Because so many of us have channeled our anxiety into epic closet-purging and shelf re-organizing, I left Arthur Guiterman’s “Everything In Its Place” in the container aisle of TJ Maxx.


poem is set against white wicker basket on top shelf


Everything in its Place

by Arthur Guiterman


The skeleton is hiding in the closet as it should,

The needle’s in the haystack and the trees are in the wood,

The fly is in the ointment and the froth is on the beer,

The bee is in the bonnet and the flea is in the ear.


The meat is in the coconut, the cat is in the bag,

The dog is in the manger and the goat is on the crag,

The worm is in the apple and the clam is on the shore,

The birds are in the bushes and the wolf is at the door.




I love this poem. I love it the way I loved puns and limericks as a girl, I love it the way I love murder mysteries and crossword puzzles today. Each phrase harks back to an aphorism, some familiar, some not, together formulating a veritable history of human warnings. All that’s missing is the shoe about to drop. The looming sense of doom is offset by the sing-song rhyme, the pithiness, the silliness of some of the expressions, the brevity of the poem. It’s all so tidy and satisfying, as promised by the title, and that last line


the birds are in the bushes and the wolf is at the door


is so perfect I’ve had it running through my head ever since I first came across this poem years ago. As every jokester knows, fear and anxiety lose a little their power when put in the service of humor.




Arthur Guiterman (1871-1943) was born in Vienna to ex-pat parents. The family moved back to the states when Guiterman was three. He graduated from City College of New York and worked as the editor for Women’s Home Companion and Literary Digest.


He was astoundingly prolific. He wrote over 4,000 poems and published over a dozen volumes of light verse. He reviewed novels for Life magazine in the novel form of humorous poems. He wrote the libretto for an opera performed at the Met and co-founded the Poetry Society of America.


He had a heart attack on his way to a lecture and died at age 72. Seems like he could have written a funny poem about that.


Guiterman doesn’t have a his own page on the Poetry Foundation website, a shame given how much pleasure he has given thousands and thousands of readers over the years.






Have a great weekend, everyone. I’ll be back with the countdown on Monday.


  1. Tom

    I am so enjoying this series with all its variety. It’s offsetting the lack of the novel and the surprising in my sequestered, locked-down life. Thank you for the daily surprise.

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