The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his heaven—
All's right with the world!
Robert Browning's 1841 poem achieved considerable fame in his own time. It has disappeared, largely, from the broader culture, save for students of historic English literature and collectors of vulgar trivia.
The verse drama concerns a silk-winding girl from Asolo, Italy who wanders around on New Year's Day, occasionally singing. She encounters a number of characters in moral crisis, and leads them to reconsider their actions. Some critics have suggested that there's more to the very Victorian work than that (Pippa clearly knows the world is less than perfect), but I'll leave deeper interpretations to readers. The poem remained popular into the early twentieth century, when stage and silent screen adaptations appeared.
"Pippa Passes" gained infamy for containing one of the most bizarre errors in literary history. At one point Pippa sings:
But at night, brother Howlet, far over the woods,
Toll the world to thy chantry;
Sing to the bats' sleek sisterhoods
Full complines with gallantry:
Then, owls and bats, cowls and twats,
Monks and nuns, in a cloister's moods,
Adjourn to the oak-stump pantry!
Browning had read an old verse from the 1600s, "Vanity of Vanities":
They talk't of his having a Cardinall's Hat
They'd send him as soon an Old Nun's Twat.
Missing entirely the rude joke, Browning thought "twat" was a part of a nun's habit. "'The word struck me,' says Browning, 'as a distinctive part of a nun's attire that might fitly be paired with the cowl appropriated to a monk.'" As a result, a once-popular, sentimental poem from the Victorian Era contains a vulgar term for female genitalia.