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John Lundberg

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The Poems You Loved As A Kid (Yes, You Did!)

Posted: 05/04/08 08:30 AM ET

Maybe it's because I spent the week trying to avoid round-the-clock Reverend Wright coverage, yearning for the days before I knew the meaning of the word "superdelegate," but I found myself wandering (way) back into books I loved as a kid, revisiting some of the first poems I ever read.

Shel Silverstein was my guy back then, hands down, and I still find his poems delightfully impish and full of fun. As a kid, I loved the fantastical, and sometimes nightmarish, cartoons he drew to accompany the poems. They help his work convince us that the world is more magical--in both fun and frightening ways--than it really is. Listening to Shel Silverstein read, you have to wonder if he really believes this. He gets into it. It's intense and even a little creepy.

It's tough to find a bad Silverstein poem, but the adult me appreciates How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes (in A Light In the Attic from Harper Collins) since some of my coworkers apply its strategy to just about everything.

If you have to dry the dishes

(Such an awful, boring chore)

If you have to dry the dishes

('Stead of going to the store)

If you have to dry the dishes

And you drop one on the floor--

Maybe they won't let you

Dry the dishes anymore.

Lewis Carroll, the Shel Silverstein of Victorian England, explained Jabberwocky--another of my first favorites--in his novel Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There, his follow-up to his famous book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Through the character of Humpty Dumpty, you get a taste of Carroll's whimsical reasoning.

'You seem very clever at explaining words, Sir' said Alice. 'Would you kindly tell me the meaning of the poem called "Jabberwocky"?'

'Let's hear it,' said Humpty Dumpty. 'I can explain all the poems that ever were invented just yet.'

Alice remarked thoughtfully: 'and what are "toves"?'

'Well, "toves" are something like badgers - they're something like lizards - and they're something like corkscrews.'

'They must be very curious-looking creatures.'

'They are that,' said Humpty Dumpty: 'also they make their nests under sundials - also they live on cheese.'

The poem is brilliant for making just enough sense to be enjoyable.

Jabberwocky

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:

Long time the manxome foe he sought--

So rested he by the Tumtum tree,

And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

He left it dead, and with its head

He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"

He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.


Of course, part of the fun of reading Jabberwocky is just saying the ridiculous words Carroll invented. You can hear echoes of this in the poems of Dr. Suess:

What was the Lorax?

And why was it there?

And why was it lifted and taken somewhere

from the far end of town where the Grickle-grass grows?

The old Once-ler still lives here.

Ask him. He knows.

You won't see the Once-ler.

Don't knock at his door.

He stays in his Lerkim on top of his store.

He lurks in his Lerkim, cold under the roof,

where he makes his own clothes

out of miff-muffered moof.

And on special dank midnights in August,

he peeks

out of the shutters

and sometimes he speaks

and tells how the Lorax was lifted away.

He'll tell you, perhaps...

if you're willing to pay.

That Once'ler is such a downer, huh? I'll end on a happier note with one more from Silverstein (I can't help myself). Just in time for allergy season, here's The Acrobats:


I'll swing,

By my ankles,

She'll cling

To your knees

As you hang

By your nose

From a high-up

Trapeze.

Just one thing, please,

As we float through the breeze--

Don't sneeze.