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.

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

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

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



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,

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

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

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.






The Influence of Form

I have written about my approach to translation from one language to another here.  Recently, it occurred to me that recasting a poem from one form to another in the same language is also a form of  translation. Let me illustrate.

In April of this year, I posted my translation of the introduction to Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil.  The fourth stanza reads as follows:

The Devil holds our puppet strings,
He leads us through the murk and mire
Nearer to Eternal Fire
And makes us like disgusting things.

This simple verse  is shaped by my stated goal, which was to preserve the sense and the rhyme scheme of the original French.   But suppose we decide to express the same concept in another form , say, a cinquain.  Then we get this:

The Devil’s
Fingers pull our
Strings; he make us like the
Vilest things; he carries us down
To Hell.

By eliminating the requirement to preserve the rhyme scheme and changing the form of the poem, we have lost some detail, but we have gained a more natural progression of ideas.

At some point in the future, I intend to do further experiments with this kind of translation.

On The Satisfactions Of Verse

My late wife used to describe me as a combination of a poet and an engineer.   She was right.  Sometimes, for me, the sense of having created art is the primary motivation; and sometimes, the process of writing a poem has its own rewards; its own satisfactions; its own frustrations.

For example, I imagined the following little verse as a story poem — the protagonist visits his aged parents in order to convince them to move to some sort of care facility.   At the time I wrote the first version, some years ago, i created a rough draft, divided into stanzas  that told the basic story.   Then I added a new challenge — a complicated rhyme scheme.  I added the complication for two reasons, one good and one bad.  The good reason was that I felt that by making the rhyme scheme complicated I would disguise the fact that the rhymes existed — always my ideal when i was using rhymed verse to convey an idea, a message, or a strong emotion.  The bad reason was that, as often happens to me, the technical challenge got in the way of the story I was trying to tell, and I ended up with a satisfying rhyme scheme, but a muddied story.

The version that follows is the usual compromise; the story I was trying to tell is much clearer, but I had to give up some of my favorite lines., and the rhyme scheme is simpler and more obvious.

Tired and frail, the old house stood,
With termites eating at the wood.
I walked through the door.

Too well I remember my sense of despair
On seeing them still living there,
Bereft, bewildered, and ignored.
I had come to ask them to move out,
The proper thing to do, no doubt.
Did I want to succeed?

I sat, and listened to the past.
Agreed, that it had past too fast
— My obligatory deed.

Age resembles poverty —
A kind of blameless misery
Insufficiently deplored.

Because my aged parents couldn’t cope,
My talk of care homes gave them hope.
They walked through the door.


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