Rowan Lipkovits (reluctance) wrote,
Rowan Lipkovits

Shaggy dog rhymes

C was given a complete, authoritative (and apparently totally public domain) Mother Goose collection, including all kinds of Dickensian nastiness I would never subject my 21st century toddler to. She presses me ever onward to read "just one more" poem, and I of course love the sound of my own voice (which, by the end of the session, has taken on a Gruffalo-esque brogue), so it's not uncommon for me to go through the entire volume -- or at least a highlights reel of it.

For reasons I cannot completely articulate (perhaps because, overfamiliar now, they bore this big toddler?), I skip over most of the "canonical" rhymes -- the Jack and Jills, Little Bo Peeps, Hickory Dickory Docks -- in favour of a fascinating body of just-so or pithy rhymes I'd never heard before: A swarm of bees in May, Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross, For Every Evil, Doctor Foster, The Girl In The Lane, There was an old woman tossed in a basket, Coffee and Tea, Candle-Saving, The Quarrel... OK, there are lots. (Who knew there were so many riddles in Mother Goose? Well, probably Nick Montfort.) This makes me a bit of a bad dad, feeding her brain with all cutting-room scraps and without any of what society decided were the good bits.

My favorites of the new-to-mes are a series of poems that play at setting up a story, and then cut and run. At their most complete they are poetic tautologies, but in more fragmentary form it just seems a kind of Victorian trolling. Do they appeal to me due to a playfully postmodern relationship to that old ball and chain, "plot"?
There was an old woman
Lived under a hill;
And if she's not gone,
She lives there still.
Three wise men of Gotham
Went to sea in a bowl;
If the bowl had been stronger
My song had been longer.
(That one's illustration is hilarious.)
I'll tell you a story
About Jack-a-Nory:
And now my story's begun.
I'll tell you another
About his brother:
And now my story is done.
There was an old woman sat spinning,
And that's the first beginning;

She had a calf,
And that's half;

She took it by the tail,
And threw it over the wall,
And that's all!

--Edited to add: one more...
There was an old crow
Sat upon a clod;
That's the end of my song.
-- That's odd.
(Is "A Difficult Rhyme" the origin of the "rhymes with orange" conundrum? If so, there's not much conundrum, as it also solves it. I was wondering if "Man in the Wilderness" might be the origin of the phrase "red herring", but apparently its use goes back a little earlier.)

What I really want to know is why the word "south" is always rhymed with someone burning their mouth -- on something cold! What's the deal, you perverse Victorians? (Hm, 1700s... quite a bit earlier.)

Sorry, no complete thoughts here: I've just been reading poems so you don't have to!
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