Eletelephony by Laura Elizabeth Richards

In ‘Eletelephony’ Richards uses humorous language and memorable images in order to create a scene that should easily grab a young reader’s attention. The events of the poem are very unusual but still quite easy to manage. The speaker tries to navigate their way through the language unsuccessful, a feature of the poem that adds to its humor. A young reader might have the same trouble with these words and take pleasure in trying out the various pronunciations. 

Eletelephony by Laura Elizabeth Richards


Summary of Eletelephony 

Eletelephony’ by Laura Elizabeth Richards is an amusing nonsense poem that depicts the attempts of a speaker to describe an elephant using a telephone. 

The speaker starts out the story strongly but as soon as the elephant tries to use the telephone they start to get confused. The words “elephant” and “telephone” merge together. They become more complex and convoluted in the later lines as the word “trunk” is added into the mix. Throughout the poem the speaker directly addresses the reader or listener, informing them of the mistakes that they are making as they try to pronounce the various similar-sounding words. 

You can read the full poem here.


Structure of Eletelephony 

Eletelephony’ by Laura Elizabeth Richards is a twelve-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines follow a simple rhyme scheme of AABBCC, and so on, changing end sounds from couplet to couplet. This very consistent rhyme scheme is perfect for this piece, or for any that is primarily aimed at a young audience. There is a distinct twisting of words in the short lines of ‘Eletelephony’. This is part of the reason that the poem is so appealing and fits so well into the genre of nonsense poetry. 


Poetic Techniques in Eletelephony 

Richards uses several techniques in ‘Eletelephony’. These include but are not limited to personification and alliteration. The first of these, personification, occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. This is seen through the major action of an elephant trying to use a telephone, something that would not happen in the real world. Although the results of it are more realistic. 

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “tried” and “telephant” in line two and “elephant” and “elephone” in lines one and three. 


Analysis of Eletelephony 

Lines 1-4

Once there was an elephant,


Who tried to use the telephone-

In the first four lines of ‘Eletelephony’, the speaker starts off by introducing the main character, an elephant. The line sets up this nonsense poem in a very well-known way, anything can happen next though. The amusing nature of the speaker’s narration quickly comes into play with the words “No! No!” in the third line. It is as though the speaker accidentally misspoke in their pronunciation of “telephone”. This is done in order to amuse and entertain. The same technique of playing with words continues into the next lines. 


Lines 5-8 

(Dear me! I am not certain quite


Entangled in the telephunk;

Lines five and six are in parenthesis. These bring in the speaker’s thoughts once more as they address the mistakes they’ve made speaking and their uncertainty that they have it right now. As the poem progresses the mistakes get more and more pronounced. The speaker really starts to jumble the words, saying “telephunk” rather than “trunk” inline eight. In the seventh line, there is an example of syncope with the shortening of “however to “howe’er”. 


Lines 9-12 

The more he tried to get it free,


Of elephop and telephong!)

In the final four lines of ‘Eletelephony’, the speaker juxtaposes the elephant’s tangled trunk with the tangle of words that they have gotten themselves into. The “more he tried to get it free” the worse it got. The same can be said for the speaker’s attempts to fix their pronunciation.  Richards puts the last lines are also in parenthesis once more. This again signals to the reader that the speaker is expressing their personal thoughts. They decide to “drop the song,” or the narrative of the elephant. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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