"NPM Lesson 4: Nonsense Verse" Mon Apr-07-03 09:52 AM
nonsense verse: Humorous or whimsical verse that features absurd characters and actions and often contains evocative but meaningless nonce words.
The aim of all nonsense verse is to amuse, and perhaps to shock. Nonsense verse tells of improbable or fantastic subjects. The humor is usually emphasized by odd words, neologisms, and unexpected juxtapositions. Often it is intended for children, but such verse also appeals to an adult sense of the ridiculous or whimsical.
The language of nonsense verse ranges from the fanciful and often aesthetically pleasing – "Hey-diddle-diddle, the cat and the fiddle / The cow jumped over the moon” – to words on the edge of meaning that tell a not-quite story.
The 19th century English writers Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll are the ultimate nonsense verse poets. The following is Lewis Carroll's poem The Hunting of the Snark. According to legend, whenever asked if the poem had allegorical, satirical, or other significance, Carroll would answer, “I don't know.”
"It's a Snark!" was the sound that first came to their ears. And seemed almost too good to be true. Then followed a torrent of laughter and cheers: Then the ominous words "It's a Boo -"
Then silence. Some fancied they heard in the air A weary and wandering sigh That sounded like "- jum!" but the others declare It was only a breeze that went by.
They hunted till darkness came on, but they found Not a button, or feather, or mark, By which they could tell that they stood on the ground Where the Baker had met with the Snark.
In the midst of the word he was going to say, In the midst of his laughter and glee, He had softly and suddenly vanished away - For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.
Evidently The Hunting of the Snark developed from the single line, “For the Snark was a Boojum, you see,” that occurred to Carroll while out walking one day. Reminds me of Pooh Bear’s nonsensical little rhymes that helped him think as he strolled along tapping his forehead. “Think, think,” he would say to himself, being of course a bear of very little brain:
The more it snows, tiddly-pom, The more it goes, tiddly-pom. And nobody knows, tiddly-pom, How cold my toes, tiddly-pom, Are growing.
To be successful, nonsense verse must follow recognized structure and syntax of language. Neologisms, to be appreciated as funny, need to be rooted in the familiar. Otherwise, how would we know to react to them? Witness the opening lines of Carroll's Jabberwocky that sound believable even as they leave us looking askance:
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
Here’s another nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll, You Are Old, Father William, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
"You are old, Father William," the young man said, "And your hair has become very white; And yet you incessantly stand on your head-- Do you think, at your age, it is right?" "In my youth," Father William replied to his son, "I feared it might injure the brain; But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none, Why, I do it again and again."
"You are old," said the youth, "as I mentioned before, And have grown most uncommonly fat; Yet you turned a back-somersault at the door-- Pray, what is the reason for that?" "In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his grey locks, "I kept all my limbs very supple By the use of this ointment--one shilling the box-- Allow me to sell you a couple."
"You are old," said the youth, "and your jaws are too weak For anything tougher than suet; Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak-- Pray, how did you manage to do it?" "In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law," And argued each case with my wife; And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw Has lasted the rest of my life."
"You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose That your eye was as steady as ever; Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose-- What made you so awfully clever?" "I have answered three questions, and that is enough," Said his father. "Don't give yourself airs; Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff? Be off, or I'll kick you down-stairs.
*sidenote: there is a children's book of nonsense verse that i think i still have to this day. i was feeling nostalgic, so i thought i would lace ya'll with something from my childhood. the book is called:
A Great Big Ugly Man Came up and Tied his Horse to Me: A book of Nonsense Verse