...it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there...

July 19, 2006

Wenesday is Poetry Day: Nonsense Poems

(NOTE: This will not be as detailed as I hoped it would be, because lately, as I'm sure regular readers have noticed, mu.nu has been up and down like the bloody Assyrian Empire.)

Nonsense poems are poems as graffiti. While a good one is beautiful, a lot of them are pretty bad and an eysore. A good nonsense poem is fun to read--no serious interpretation is necessary. There are no hidden meanings, no great truths hidden in a true nonsense poem, as a nonsense poem is an exercise in sound and meter.

And because of this, I suspect writing a good nonsense poem would be extremely difficult for an experienced poet. Now, don't get me wrong--the sound and the meter is the easy part. The difficult part is making it read like real poetry, and not just a mish-mash of...well, sounds in a certain beat.

The best and most beautiful of all nonsense poems is, without a doubt, Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky and there's not much to be said by way of introduction:

'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.

Jabberwocky flows like a gentle stream, using nonsense words that seem and sound like real words (in fact, some of them may be adaptions of obsolete English words, and others have made it into the vernacular). At the same time, there is a story in there...somewhere. Alice herself has the best comment on this poem: "It seems very pretty," she said when she had finished it, "but it's rather hard to understand!...Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don't exactly know what they are!" As well a good nonsense poem should.

By contrast, Ogden Nash (whose poetry was mostly humorous in nature) tried his hand at nonsense and it comes off like a gawd-awful ripoff of Jabberwocky:


The sharrot scudders nights in the quastron now,
The dorlim slinks undeceded in the grost,
Appetency lights the corb of the guzzard now,
The ancient beveldric is otley lost.

Treduty flees like a darbit along the drace now,
Collody lollops belutedly over the slawn.
The bloodbound bitterlitch bays the ostrous moon now,
For yesterday's bayable majicity is flunky gone.

Make way, make way, the preluge is scarly nonce now,
Make way, I say, the gronderous Demiburge comes,
His blidless veins shall ye joicily rejugulate now,
And gollify him from 'twixt his protecherous gums.

I'm sorry, but this is unreadable. I'm cringing by the fourth word, moaning by the third line, and somewhere in the second stanza my eyes explode and I run away screaming and tearing my hair out. While the meter seems derived from Jabberwocky the beat is off just enough to make me want to scream. The nonsense words are truly nonsense and forced, and they sound too harsh to make this poem even vaguely fun to read. At three stanzas and twelve lines this is waaay too long. There's absolutely no hint of a story in there. It's not very pretty, it's impossible to understand, and my head is not filled with ideas. Man oh Manischewitz, this poem sucks.

Posted by Victor, Jul. 19, 2006 | TrackBack (0)
Rubric: Poetry


Good stuff about total nonsense! ;-D

While I've done plenty of poetry I've yet to tackle the Nonsense Poem.

What's the Meter anywho?

Posted by: liriK ffeizarudnuK on Jul. 19, 2006

Excellent postroillig por Victor to shlump.
Hasn't been this ferglippy in nigh on a gwump.
If I had my droffings I'd flumpher their voop,
like a squitch on dugginz, or annika's throop.

Posted by: Tuning Spork on Jul. 19, 2006


Show off! ;-D

Funny, though, Tuning. ;-D

Posted by: Kiril, The Mad Macedonian on Jul. 19, 2006

I like to think of myself as open minded. But as hard as I try I just cant seem to see poetry as anything other than dribble from selfish and emotionaly disturbed sympathy junkies. I'm sorry

Posted by: Jeff on Jul. 19, 2006

Just make it up. It's all good! :D

Posted by: Tuning Spork on Jul. 19, 2006

Oh, I'm sure it is. ;-D

It's just that being new to poetry, and exploring my own talents these last couple of years, I don't think I'm ready just yet to explore my inner Lewis Carroll. ;-D

Posted by: Kiril, The Mad Macedonian on Jul. 19, 2006

I just explored my inner Lewis Carrol! ;-D

Some of my best poems have just come out of the blue due to some sudden inspiration.

Tonite was one such moment. ;-D

Afer my lst comment the notion popped into my head to look at Carrolls poem again.

I suddenly said to myself: "Self! You can do this! and I know how!"

Click on my name, read the piece, let me know what you think, and if you like it, feel free spread the word. ;-D

Thank You Annika, and Tuning Spork! ;-D

And, of course, Lewis Carroll!

Posted by: Kiril, The Mad Macedonian Poet on Jul. 19, 2006

Almost fergot, I'm so tired ( Long day! ).

Thank YOU, too VICTOR!!!

You was the one inspired to post about Nonsense Poems today in the 1st place! ;-D

Posted by: Kiril, The tired, and sleepy, Macedonian on Jul. 19, 2006