I have a soft spot for nonsense poetry. This stems from a book I was given as a child: Edward Lear’s Nonsense Books. This was a small bound hardcover, a collection of long-form poems and quick limericks, issued in the style of the old Hardy Boys and Tom Swift and Nancy Drew book I liked, which may have prompted someone — I forget who — to give it to me.
If you don’t know Lear’s works, check some of them out here.
That book vanished along with a lot of my other prized possessions, somewhere between the crash, the shipwreck and the fire. So I was quite happy and surprised last year when I was given a box of kids’ books, and in it was … the same Edward Lear edition. I set about to read the bizarre limericks to my children, and learned quickly that while they share my sense of humour in many ways, they don’t quite get things like this:
There was an Old Person whose habits,
Induced him to feed upon rabbits;
When he’d eaten eighteen,
He turned perfectly green,
Upon which he relinquished those habits.
See, I think that’s a gem. The kids just rolled their eyes. And don’t even get me started on how I tried to introduce them to the concept of the Yongy-Bongy-Bo.
A couple of weeks ago, I was given another box of old books (among many other things). Among them was a small, slim book of nonsense poetry, this one from the 1950s. That’s the cover up top. Pleased, I decided to try the book out on the kids. I didn’t get far, because I opened it to this page:
Now, the first three are just bad poetry, tedious and dull, nowhere near Lear’s level of wit. The second one is also a tad sexist (but we covered this yesterday, so you know how I feel about politically correct revisionism.)
The fourth poem, though, the one with the illustration, stopped me cold. It seems to advocate date rape, with accompanying art that is just vague enough to spark my WTF alert. I flipped through the rest of the book and realized that even within the literary genre called “nonsense,” there is nonsense. I’m all for explorations of shitty attitudes people used to have, but not to the point that it makes me look away. I shouldn’t have to look away from what purports to be a kids’ book.