Napoleon’s hat is an obvious choice I guess to list as a famous
hat, but that’s not the hat I have in mind. That was his hat for
show. I am thinking of his private bathing cap, which in all hon-
esty wasn’t much different than the one any jerk might buy at a
corner drugstore now, except for two minor eccentricities. The
first one isn’t even funny: Simply it was a white rubber bathing
cap, but too small. Napoleon led such a hectic life ever since his
childhood, even farther back than that, that he never had a
chance to buy a new bathing cap and still as a grown-up–well,
he didn’t really grow that much, but his head did: He was a pin-
head at birth, and he used, until his death really, the same little
tiny bathing cap that he was born in, and this meant that later it
was very painful to him and gave him many headaches, as if he
needed more. So, he had to vaseline his skull like crazy to even
get the thing on. The second eccentricity was that it was a tricorn
bathing cap. Scholars like to make a lot out of this, and it would
be easy to do. My theory is simple-minded to be sure: that be-
neath his public head there was another head and it was a pyra-
mid or something.

Analysis, meaning and summary of James Tate's poem The List of Famous Hats


  1. ea says:

    This has got ot be one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever read.

  2. ea says:

    LOL. Hats off to Tate!

  3. cary says:

    this poem is so good, it’s hard to even describe it….I agree: more frivolity on Earth…..I mean, whatever happened to frivolity? wild orgies? the good life? ……

  4. caroline says:

    totally fresh, unexpected from the title and hilarious.
    Jordan’s comments are right on and very “tate-ish”. We would all enjoy life more with more frivolity.

  5. jordan says:

    this poem is so suggestive and conversational that it reads like floating, intoxicating air through a sober world. we need more frivolity here on earth, and tate seems to feel the same way – this poem serves to provide some. excellent!!!!

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