Horton Sees a Pluto

by Meg Muckenhoupt, Lexington, Massachusetts, USA
Illustrations by Gavin Schnitzler, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

On a hot night in August, while strolling in Prague,
Horton the elephant peered through the fog
With his portable telescope tied on a string
He looked at the heavens and spotted… a thing!

So Horton stopped walking and stared at the spot.
“That’s funny,” thought Horton, “It was there, now it’s not.”
Then he saw it again! Just a faint bit of fuzz
He certainly thought it wasn’t there—but it was!
“I’ll name it!” said Horton, “But what is it? Where?”
He looked and he looked. He could see nothing there
But small speck of ice floating far past the air.

“I say!” murmured Horton. “Stuff my trunk in a sock!
I’ve spotted a terribly far-away rock!
So you know what I think? I think that there must
Be a splendid new name for this lump of star-dust.
Even though it is quite a diminutive size,
Too small to be seen by an elephant’s eyes...

But it looks very spherical, round at the girth,
Just like the planets Mars, Venus, and Earth
I’ll just have to name it. Because, after all,
A planet’s a planet no matter how small.”

“Humpf!” humphed a voice. ‘Twas a sour old sloth
Who cleared his thick head with a very slow cough.
“Why, that speck is as small as the head of a pin!
A planet that small? There never has been!”

The planets and that thing are just not the same!
They don’t occupy the same orbital plane!
That thing’s not a planet—not even a dwarf.
It’s an asteroid merely, for all that that’s worth.”

She ended the sentence at twenty past one,
Exactly five hours since she had begun.
But Horton was patient, and waited to say
Why he thought this very new planet should stay.

“Believe me,” said Horton. “I tell you sincerely,
My eyes are quite keen and I saw it quite clearly.
I know it’s a planet out there. And, what’s more,
Quite likely there’s two. Even three. Even four.
Quite likely we’ll find five or six dozen more.

It’s a new planet family for all that we know!
A classification just starting to grow.
So, please,” Horton said, “as a favor to me,
Try not to reclassify. Just let it be.”

“I think you’re a fool!” laughed the sour old sloth.
“It can’t be a planet! Enough is enough!
A cantaloupe’s spherical! So is a hog!”
And she blew a great breath towards poor Horton near Prague.

The fog closed in over the elephant’s head.
He peered through his telescope, trembling with dread.
The sloth’s exhalation had stirred up some smoke
And a billion dust particles made Horton choke.

“I’ll find it!” cried Horton. “I’ll find it or bust!
I SHALL find my planet behind all this dust!”
And object, by object, by object with care
He searched through the heavens and called, “Are you there?”

And on through the night, and while greatly annoyed,
‘Til he found it at last! (With a few asteroids.)
“My planet!” cried Horton. “Tell me! Do tell!
Are you flat? Are you round? Is your orbit quite well?

"O planet! O planet!” he begged, “please be bright!
You’ve got to be more than a rock in the night!
So please get reflective! Get big, bright and shiny!
You’re very important! So what if you’re tiny?
If you can’t show you’re bright and not just itty-bitty,
You’ll be named by the Small-Not-A-Planet Committee!”

Then it happened. The Thing shone quite bright, and quite clear,
And the rock’s surface gleamed with the words, “I AM HERE.”

And those words…
That small sentence made all the sloths see
The planet still mattered, although it was wee.
Finally, at last! From that speck in the sky
The planet was seen! By every eye.

And Horton just smiled. “Do you see after all?
It’s proved it’s a planet, no matter how small.”
“How true! Yes, how true,” said the sloth, “oh, how true!
And, from now on, you know what I’m planning to do?
From here on, I’ll always observe it with you!
My Real Planet Committee will meet in the fall,
and we’ll name all the planets, no matter how small.”

“Call it Pluto,” said Horton, “The best one of all!”


This article is republished with permission from the September-October 2009 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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