The Old Maid and the Burglar

In 1959 or thereabouts, I was the proud possessor of a book called A Treasury of Laughs for Boys and Girls, edited by Joanna Strong and Tom B. Leonard, and published by Hart in 1948. I loved this book more than almost any other. As time went on, my copy was lost, and I mourned until I chanced to find in around 1990 (stuffed under the lowest shelf of the dirtiest used bookstore I have ever been in) another copy, which now occupies an honored place on my shelves.

One of the many pieces of wit and wisdom found in the book was the poem whose title graces this post. I reproduce it for you here – and I happened to think of it because of a verse in Lonnie Donegan’s song “Lively.”


Oh, listen to the story of a burglar bold
Who broke into a house;
He opened the window and crept inside,
As silent as a mouse.

He hoped to get some swag;
He hoped to make a haul;
But if he’d known ’twas an old maid’s house,
He wouldn’t have had the gall.

At nine the skinny old maid came in;
“Oh, I’m so tired,” she said.
And thinking that all was quite all right,
She didn’t look under the bed.

She took out her teeth and her big glass eye,
And the hair from off her her head;
The burglar had a thousand fits
As he watched from under the bed!

From under the bed the burglar crept,
He was a total wreck.
The old maid wasn’t asleep at all;
She grabbed him by the neck.

She didn’t scream or holler or yell,
She was as calm as a clam;
And all she said was “Saints be praised!
At last I found a man!”

From under the pillow a pistol she took,
And to the burglar said,
“Young man, if you don’t marry me,
I’ll blow off the top of your head.”

Old Maid

The burglar was too scared to yell;
He was too scared to scoot –
He took one look at her big glass eye
And said, “For pity’s sake, shoot!”

There are a number of versions of this poem around – another set of verses can be found at The Mudcat Cafe, and here is a version set to song by Ernest Stoneman and his Dixie Mountaineers:

Some hunting around at YouTube will find other versions still. I’m glad some of them have been preserved for future generations.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

11 responses to “The Old Maid and the Burglar

  1. Oh the joy of finding this poem – and it’s the correct version. I too read this poem in a book from my childhood which I cannot find.

    Thank you SO much for making my day.

  2. I have been looking for this poem on the internet for years – my grandmother used to just crack us up reciting it. I could not find it because I was using her title when I used Google. Thank you so much for posting!

  3. I am so happy to see this story. I also had that book and also lost it. I learned this nursery rhyme or whatever you would call it when I was about 10 and recited it at the school talent show. I remembered most of it for the last 50 years but now I can tell the whole story. Thank you for sharing it.

  4. Thank you. My mama use to recite this to me when I was young. I never knew it had been published. Fabulous. Thank you

  5. Thank you. My mama use to recite this to me when I was young. I never knew it had been published. Fabulous. Thank you

  6. My father would recite this poem to my sister and I from memory all the time growing up, which was taught and told to him by his mother. My sister was able to memorize it, I however would always struggle to do so. For years, I thought the poem would be lost since I had never had found it in/on any poetry collections and my sister’s memory wasn’t clear on some verses any more; thank you for putting this up. My father’s version is a wee different but that’s the art of story telling, little things change with each telling.

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