Sunday, January 13, 2008

Fun With Limericks

So, the Happy Boy has a problem that we suspect most kids his age have: his shoes just want to be free. Either that, or his feet just want to be free. That is, his feet and his shoes don't mind their relationship, they'd just rather that it wasn't so... close.

And, the Happy Boy has another problem that many kids his age has: molars. Now for kids this age, molars are a big problem. They hurt. Here are these huge teeth trying to push their way up through the baby's gums! Ow. And as just about every parent will tell you, when the baby is teething, nobody's very happy. (Least of all, the parents who have to change the diapers. But this post is not about baby poop, so let's just leave that topic right there, shall we?)

So the Happy Boy has sore gums, which he likes to soothe by finding handy objects that he can cram in his mouth and gnaw upon. Or rather, he likes footy objects. That's right, this semi-mobile genius has discovered a use for shoes that don't stay on the feet.

His sisters think it's funny when he takes his shoe off and crams it in his mouth. Frankly, I do too.

So, in the spirit of the moment, I popped off with an appropriate Limerick I've known since childhood. (And Lord knows, there are plenty of inappropriate Limericks out there; I didn't pop off with any of those.)
There once was a man from Peru
Who dreamed he was eating his shoe.
He awoke with a fright
In the dark of the night,
And found it was perfectly true!
The Pillowfight Fairy loved it, and had me repeat it. Then she had me repeat it again. Then, when she wanted me to repeat it again, I turned the tables and had her repeat it. After all, she's pretty good at memorizing poetry, and I figured it was good to get her started on the Limerick form. So pretty soon we were taking turns spouting off about the Man from Peru.

Now I remember a melody that I was taught in my elementary school music class, way back when the earth was cooling, that we could use when singing Limericks. I don't remember the title of this tune. And I don't want to go through all the work of recording a sound file for you to download to give you a sense of what it sounds like. Instead, just imagine a bit of music sounding a little like the "Mexican Hat Dance" with the right number of syllables that one can sing a Limerick to it. Got that image in your head? Good.

So I sang about the Man from Peru to this very upbeat, silly melody that sounded like the Mexican Hat Dance, and the Pillowfight Fairy loved it. After about five or six repeats, the Fairy had the tune pretty much down, and was singing along.

But after a while the Man from Peru needs a little rest (not to mention a liquid diet), so I decided to pull out some other ones I knew. I started with the one that I composed way back here:
One thing I discovered is true:
It's quite a bit harder to do
A limerick that's pure,
Discrete and demure,
Than conjure a raunchy haiku.
Of course, I sang it to the same tune as the previous one, and I put in a little Satchmo growl on the last line. The Fairy loved it. So, on to the next one, which I learned from my dear Sister-In-Law, and which I now sang in a pirate accent (Arrrrgggg!):
The Limerick is furtive and mean.
You must keep her in close quarantine,
Or she slinks to the slums
And promptly becomes
Disorderly, drunk, and obscene.
We were having a great deal of fun now, so I started pulling out every clean Limerick I could think of, and singing them to that ridiculous Mexican Hat Dance tune:
A bather, whose clothing was strewed
By breezes, which left her quite nude,
Saw a man come along--
And unless I am wrong,
You thought this line was going to be lewd.
...well, not entirely clean. But she's five.

Well, this was a whole lot of fun, and I was running out of Limericks, so I pulled out my copy of Selected Poetry of Ogden Nash and started to mine it for gems:
There was a brave girl of Connecticut
Who flagged the express with her pecticut,
Which her elders defined
As presence of mind,
But deplorable absence of ecticut.
Ok, this was fun, but it was going on a bit long, and getting a wee bit too close to the edge. But the Pillowfight Fairy was loving it. So she decided to do some. Now the Fairy, when she wants to make up poetry, doesn't sit down and start working out rhymes. She doesn't say to herself: "Ok, I'm doing a poem about bunnies, so I need to find all the words that rhyme with bunnies, like funnies, and honeys, and monies...." No, when she writes a poem, she doesn't work out the rhymes in advance--she just starts freestylin'. And if the word she puts at the end of the line happens to be something like purple, she's just out of luck when she gets to the next line and can't come up with a rhyme on the spur of the moment. But then she'll do a little of the Ogden Nash thing and make up a word that fits, darn it.

And I was pretty impressed with what she came up with. I must apologize that I can't remember any of her Limerick creations; they had so many neologisms in them that it would take a team of linguists (and psychologists) weeks to figure out what was going on in her head. But I noted that, even though we haven't done any formal studying of poetry at all, she has the Limerick form down cold.

Of course, after this whole Limerick episode was over, and the Fairy had gone on to play with other things, I started finding and remembering other Limericks that would have worked beautifully in our little game. Another one from Ogden Nash:
There was an old man of Calcutta,
Who coated his tonsils with butta,
Thus converting his snore
From a thunderous roar
To a soft, oleaginous mutta.
I am, and shall always be, in awe of the genius of Ogden Nash, the man who could put "oleaginous" in a poem and get it to work. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that he woke up one morning and thought to himself: "Hmm. What should I do today? I think I'll write a poem around the word oleaginous."

Much fun. Anyway, I'll close out with one more poem from Nash--not a Limerick, and wouldn't fit with the Mexican Hat Dance song, but I came across it in my Limerick hunt and loved it:
Here is a dream.
It is my dream--
My own dream--
I dreamt it.
I dreamt that my hair was kempt,
Then I dreamt that my true love unkempt it.


FatcatPaulanne said...

I love Ogden Nash too!

The only one I can (kind of ) quote from memory is this one.

Little fleas have littler fleas
upon their backs to bite em
and littler fleas have littler fleas and so on, ad infinitum.

Timothy Power said...

Hello, fatcatpaulanne!

Actually, I think that poem was originally by Jonathan Swift, although it sounds very Ogden Nash (and he may have adapted it for his own purposes.)

The original poem is entitled On Poetry:

So, naturalists observe, a flea
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller fleas to bite ‘em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.

Thus every poet, in his kind,
Is bit by him who comes behind.

Note that in the 18th century when Swift wrote this, the word "flea" was pronounced to rhyme with "prey".

Anon 1:50 said...

Limericks of a scientific bent are rare, so here is one dealing with the Theory of Relativity and time travel!

A clever young fellow named Wright,
had a craft that was faster than light.
He set off one day,
in a relative way,
and returned the preceding night!