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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Poetry and Fun

Poetry is often thought of as solemn and intense - so much so that humorous and just plain fun poems go unnoticed. I wrote a rather silly poem when I was a teenager. I suppose I ought to be embarrassed by it but I still like it. I remember most of it but oddly enough, not the title. Here is the poem from very long ago.

He asked was I inclined toward law.
I said without it life’s a bore.
He asked too if I knew any torts.
I answered yes of course all sorts.
He asked then what statutes did I know.
“Moses, David – Michelangelo.”
He explained authoritatively
he was the suitor, I, suitee.

Playfulness, wordplay, humor, and wit in poetry are the flashes of fun that make a poem original and engaging. The three elements of comedy – contrast, surprise, and exaggeration – are present in 16th century sonnets and in fun poems written this morning. The pining sonneteer who feels he will die if his beloved rebuffs him, the lady who is the recipient of his devotion, portrayed as terribly cruel, along with outrageous metaphors are all exaggerations. In Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnet “Oh grammar rules, oh now your virtues show,” the poet says two negatives equal a positive so the lady he courting saying no to his advances twice means yes.

“Love Song” by Dorothy Parker has equal amounts of wit and surprise. If you haven't read Parker before, you're in for a treat. Here is the link to the poem.

"The Ridiculous Woman"  is another silly poem of mine written several years ago. The poem has a bit of dark undertone but not enough to hide its essential goofiness.


I’m a ridiculous woman
in a ridiculous body
wearing ridiculous clothes.
My eyes are two buttons,
my nose a clothespin,
my mouth, half a crayon,
ears, shells of odd size,
hands, empty mittens.
My feet I refuse to describe.
My dreams are of noodles,
my hair, spinach green.
I’m the most ridiculous woman
I’ve ever seen.

Poetry isn’t limited to solemn, intense poems. Poetry also embraces silliness, humor, and wit. Tragedy is always waiting offstage, anxious to make its entrance, but when comedy is center stage in a poem the result is delight.

Image: © Retro Clipart/

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

William Blake and the Forgiving Lamb

Here is another essay I wrote while participating in the edX massive open online course (MOOC) called The Art of Poetry.

To read the poem “Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake, click this link

“Auguries of Innocence” is an indictment of human cruelty but it is also more than that and no matter how many times I read this poem I know I have not yet understood all the “more.” The poem begins with a grain of sand and a wild flower and proceeds immediately to descriptions of imprisoned birds, starved dogs, and abused horses. Some of the effects of human cruelty include “Heaven in a rage,” calls to heaven for “human blood,” and paradoxically, a lamb that “forgives the Butcher’s knife.” And because the poem emphasizes the interconnectedness of all things, it is intriguing.
Photo: © |

If I understand the lines “A dove-house fill’d with Doves and Pigeons/Shudders Hell thro’ all its regions,” the fallen angels in hell are as upset by human cruelty as the angels in heaven are. Is Blake suggesting the fallen angels or devils that inhabit hell still have a residue of compassion from the time before their fall?

Blake’s compassion toward and embrace of the abused, whether children or animals, is so strong and expansive, it is inspiring. Blake and Dickens were contemporaries. Each genius had a strong voice for social reform in Victorian England.

I often lightly pencil or bracket lines of a poem that jump out and startle me with their beauty or power but with “Auguries of Innocence,” it is useless to do this as I would wind up bracketing almost all the lines in the poem. The poem is an outcry against cruelty. It is also a catalog of punishments in store for those who are cruel. Blake seems to have assumed the role of God’s enforcer, doling out punishments, especially to those who cause a child to doubt. “He who shall teach the Child to Doubt/The rotting Grave shall ne’er get out.” The lamb in the beginning of the poem forgives but Blake does not.

I read that Nietzsche broke down on a street in Italy when he saw a man beating a horse. Blake does not sob at cruelty toward the innocent. He rages against it, like the Old Testament God, and Blake’s rage is enclosed in exquisite and soul-strengthening poetry.