My First Double Dactyls

In the past, I have posted about double dactyls here and here.

In 1966, or 1967, When Hecht and Hollander published their book of Double Dactyls, Esquire magazine held a competition where readers could submit their own double dactyls.   I wrote the three that follow, but I didn’t have the courage to submit them.

Jiggery-Pokery!
Wilt-the-Stilt Chamberlain
In real life is really
About five foot two.
He dunks ’em because of his
Superplasticity,
So eat all your spinach,
It could happen to you.

Higgledy-Piggledy!
Romeo Montague
Parting with Juliet
Did, in a word,
Call it “sweet sorrow” so
Oximoronicly,
Thunderous silence was
All that was heard.

Higgledy-Piggledy!
Andrès Segovia
Told a young student
To pick out a tune.
After a bar, he cried:
“Misericordia!
“And Madre de Dios!”,
I should play the bassoon!”

 

NOTES:

Wilt Chanberlain (known as “Wilt the Stilt”) was the greatest basketball player of that (and probably any) era.
Andrès Segovia was a famous Spanish classical guitarist.
Superplasticity means extraordinary ability to stretch.
Misericordia is the Latin for Mercy.

 

 

 

More on the Influence of Form

Not long ago, I posted about the influence that poetic form has on the effect of a poem.   At that time I said that I intended to do further experiments with translation of a poem from one form to another.   Here is my next attempt.

The starting point is a light verse I posted almost at the beginning of this blog.    The original is a Shakespearean sonnet, which may be thought of as a sequence of seven couplets.   The first translation is a series of seven cinquains; the second is a series of seven haikus.  I will provide a  brief analysis at the end.

Consider, friend, the paradox of life:
It’s all you have, and all you’re sure to lose.
All that you do – grow up, pick out a wife,
Owes more to Chance than I, for one would choose.
Fear not! The answer is Philosophy.
And if, at that, your heart fills with gladness,
Remember that all thought is Sophistry,
And thought is the certain way to madness.
These days, with all there is that’s puzzling,
I think as little as I can.
I work with my hands! That’s the only thing
That fits with God’s simple, earnest plan.
I work hard, and for relaxation, I
Try to pass camels through a needle’s eye.

(The last couplet is an irreverent reference to Matthew 19:24)

Translation into Cinquains:

My friend,
Consider the
Paradox of life; it’s
All you have and all you surely
Will lose.

All that
You do – grow up,
Meet someone and marry,
Owes more to Chance than I, for one
Would choose.

Fear not!
The answer is
Philosophy, and if,
At that, your heart fills with gladness,
Beware.

All thought
Is Sophistry.
So stop thinking so much,
For thought is the certain way to
Madness.

These days,
With all there is
That’s puzzling, I try
To think as little as I can,
Or less.

I work
With my hands, the
Only thing that fits God’s
Simple, earnest plan for we puny
Mortals.

I work
Hard, and when I
Relax, I try to pass
Camels through upright needles by
The eye.

 

Haiku translation:

Consider, friend the
Paradox of Life – all you
Have and all you’ll lose.

All that you do in
This life owes more to Chance than
I, for one would choose.

Fear not, the answer
Is Philosophy, which may
Fill you with gladness.

But remember, all
Thought is sophistry, and thought
May lead to madness.

These days, with all of
Life’s puzzles, I try to think
So very little.

I work with my hands
That’s the only thing that fits
With God’s simple plan.

And for relaxation, I try
To pass camels through the eyes
Of my needles.

 

All three versions say essentially the same thing, but the effect each has is different.   To help understand this, a little background on the various forms will help:

The Shakespearean sonnet has 14 ten-syllable lines (occasionally a syllable may be dropped for effect ) which rhyme according to the pattern :abab cdcd efef gg

Each five line cinquain has the following (unvarying) syllabic pattern:

2 syllables
4 syllables
6 syllables
8 syllables
2 syllables

Each three line haiku has the following (unvarying) syllabic pattern:

5 syllables
7 syllables
5 syllables

In summary then, each couplet of the sonnet has (usually) 20 syllables; each cinquain has 22 syllables and each haiku has 17 syllables.   I believe the difference in the number of syllables is the primary cause of the difference in effect.   The original sonnet is full of intellectual wordplay and has in the end a slightly off-putting comic effect ( off-putting because you ave to work too hard).  Some of the individual cinquains do a better job than the original couplet, of delivering meaning; others have a prosaic quality, because of the extra syllables.  Overall, the cinquain version is noticeably less cohesive.  The haiku version, on the other hand, feels more cohesive, but its oracular quality  (due in part to fewer syllables) dampens the humor.

 

 

 

 

 

A is For Arnyx

It occurred to me that although I have posted a sample illustration from my book of verse for children, A is for Arnyx, I haven’t posted any examples of the verses themselves.   Here are three of them,   The first, The Arnyx,  was also the first to be written.  I made up the name “Arnyx” and was very surprised when I discovered, through the magic of the internet, that there are people named “Arnyx”,  The second, The Frammis, was my first and only attempt at an original tongue-twister.   The third, The Questerling, is perhaps the most traditional kid’s poem in the book.

 

 

The Arnyx is a fearsome beast –
Two heads, twelve legs, three tails (at least.)
His cry’s so loud, that when it’s ceased,
A pin drop’s like a drum.

The Arnyx lives in garden sheds,
And sometimes under children’s beds.
The rightmost of its hairy heads
Is used for chewing gum.

Fear not, fear not the Arnyx, child!
Its disposition’s meek and mild.
The only thing that drives him wild
Is a girl who sucks her thumb.

 

The frammis frets and fidgets,
As it tries to fit a widget
On the bottom of a basket
That is fully filled with gaskets

Now, the frammis, silly fellow,
Would be better being mellow,
For a widget is a gadget
For the inside of a basket,

And it’s much too much to ask it
To fit inside a basket
That is fully filled with gaskets.

 

When all the other birds take wing,
The poor, bedraggled Questerling
Yearns to join them in their flight,
Flaps its wings with all its might,
Until its heart begins to pound.
And still it’s anchored to the ground.

That hapless, panting Questerling,
That hopeless, earthbound, flightless thing,
Is burdened by excessive weight.
Oh, it regrets now that it ate
So much candy, so much cake
Not to mention chocolate shakes.

Oh, how it regrets its fast-food fling!
No more French fries, O, Questerling!
McDougall menus from now on,
Until all this extra weight is gone.

For now, the Questerling sits and sighs,
And dreams of soaring through the skies.

 

Variation on a Theme by Baudelaire

The following variation was written a few years later than the Variations I describe  here.   The theme it varies is from the “To the Reader” introduction to Les Fleurs du Mal, or rather from my translation of “To the Reader,”  which I may share at some point.

 

It’s true, my friend, you have free will
And yet, you are a puppet still.
The Devil’s fingers pull your strings.
He makes you do disgusting things.
He leads you through the murk and mire
Nearer to eternal fire.
But, if you wish, you can escape.
The strings are only stuck with tape.
So yank them off, and turn to good.
Abstinence and brotherhood.
But if you worship womankind,
And if you yearn one night to find
Soft golden hair across your chest,
And touch her softly rounded breast,
And hear her sweet, seductive song,
I guess you’ll have to string along

Peace March

In 1969, I was working for System Development Corporation in Santa Monica, in the job I wound up in after I was almost sent to Vietnam.   (I’ll write about that and about the complicated mix on anti-war revulsion and sense of duty that I felt at the time in conjunction with a forthcoming poem).  1969 was the year I first felt free to publicly express my feelings about the war.  For the previous two years, I had worked at Air Force facilities in Massachusetts and Florida.  In an odd way, I had fulfilled the tour of duty that I had almost spent in Vietnam, and I began to involve myself politically in the anti-war movement that had begun to sweep the country the previous year.  I took to wearing a black arm band at work, and when I heard about the nationwide October 15th Peace March, I joined the one that marched from Santa Monica to UCLA.   At the end of the march, we were treated to a rather banal speech by Candace Bergen, in her pre-Murphy-Brown days.   It wasn’t exactly inspiring, but what the hell; she was beautiful.

Song for the October 15th Peace March

Verse 1:

I went out marching on that day.
Ten thousand people led the way,
Then more joined in, and more, and then
We marched as ten times ten times ten.
And we’ll keep on marching, if it takes us years;
Til someone listens, someone hears.

Chorus 1:

Well, when you get old and gray,
You can’t hold a candle – for peace.
When you get old and gray,
You can’t hold a candle – for love.
But if everyone else lit one little candle,
We’d have one hell of a light.

Verse 2:

My mother called me up next day,
And I really hadn’t much to say,
So I told my mother what I’d done,
And she said: “Is that what you believe in, son?”
“Sure,” I said, “Has been for years.”
She always listens, but never hears.

Chorus 2:

Well, as we all marched along,
We all held a candle – for peace.
Well. as we all marched along,
We all held a candle – for love.
And when all of us lit just one little candle,
We had a hell of a light.

 



 

Dealing with Death

I just reviewed this site…no  less than six posted poems since January  have to do in some way with death, which is strange, because as I grow older, and as I experience the deaths of others close to me, death has become a part of life.   But when I was young, I was haunted by a pervasive fear of death.   Either I dealt with it ironically, as here, or aggressively, as in the following verse from 1965:

I know you, Death, you cannot hide.
It’s most unseemly to be weak.
Come out – I shall be satisfied
With only – call it – “morticide”.
Since that your moving finger writ
Your name in blood upon my cheek,
My honor’s called out for revenge –
You must be made to answer it.
You shrink, my friend?  Is that a twinge
Of fear on your unmanly brow?
I am Immortal – I have died.
You must be made to answer now.