Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lore and Language of Schoolchildren

I know that Theodore Roethke admired and emulated nursery rhymes. You can hear it in his prosody, lurking underneath each alliteration and rhyme. He works on that border between nursery innocence and adult insanity. It's too much to bear, sometimes. In the 1950s, folkorists Iona & Peter Opie listened to the songs and chants of the playgrounds of Great Britain, and compiled them in an indispensable study recently re-issued by the equally indispensable NYRB classics imprint (with an introduction by Maria Warner, whose Phantasmagoria is one of my favorite books of 2007). When I get too confused or excited by the arguments of and about contemporary poetry (great articles about which in the new PMLA), and need to find somewhere to start over at my own table, this is the sort of thing I reach for:

The sausage is a cunning bird

with feathers long and wavy.

It swims about the frying pan

and makes its nest in gravy.


It’s a knock-kneed chicken, it’s a bow-legged sparrow.

Missed my bus so I went by barrow.


Masculine, feminine, neuter.

I went for a ride on my scooter.


Adam and Eve in the garden,

studying the beauty of nature.

The devil jumped out of a Brussel sprout

and hit Eve in the eye with a tater.


and this, perhaps the best couplet in the language:

Mary Jane went to Spain

in a chocolate aeroplane.


Anonymous said...


Your hostile takeover of the blog is an unfolding delight, Ed.

ed said...

Well, I thought that since you've kept my name on the top despite two or so months of dereliction, I ought to give you cats a break.

Anonymous said...

We've spent the break disciplining our rooster, who has taken to violently pecking anyone who isn't wearing yellow boots.

Which, come to think of it, sounds like Roethke.

ed said...

Such pecking was not easy.

Laura @ Hungry and Frozen said...

I do enjoy a witty couplet...so thanks for introducing me to this. I look forward to seeing where your links take me...

David Rochester said...

This was a delightful post ... the lines quoted made me think of some unholy offspring of Lewis Carroll, William Gilbert, and Hilaire Belloc.