Hey diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle.
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed to see such fun,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
Nonsense verse is a form of poetry written to make one smile and have fun, it is intentionally silly, witty, or just plain strange. It frees us from
the tight reins of syntax and grammar and sets our imagination free. Lewis Carol and Edward Lear are two of the most famous poets of nonsense verse in English. Three of my favourite poems from The Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear are as follows.
There was an Old Person of Tring,
Who embellished his nose with a ring;
He gazed at the moon,
Every evening in June,
That ecstatic Old Person of Tring.
There was an Old Man who said, "How,–
Shall I flee from this horrible Cow?
I will sit on this stile,
And continue to smile,
Which may soften the heart of that Cow."
There was an Old Man of the Hague,
Whose ideas were excessively vague;
He built a balloon,
To examine the moon,
That deluded Old Man of the Hague.
Bengali, my mother tongue, also has a host of such poetry, but perhaps the most well-known of them is Sukumar Ray’s immortal creation Abol Tabol, which means nonsense in Bengali. It is still rare to find, even more than 80 years since its publication, to find an educated Bengali whose fondest childhood memories do not include Sukumar Ray’s creations. I leave a few translations for you to enjoy. I have used the translations available in http://www.parabas.com/
Was a duck, porcupine (to grammar I bow not)
Became Duckupine, but how I know not.
Stork tells turtle, "Indeed it’s a delight-
Our Stortle shape is exactly right!"
Parrot-Head Lizard feels decidedly silly:
Must he spurn all bugs for a raw green chili?
The goat now hatches a plan to wed-
Mounts scorpion’s neck–body unites with head!
The giraffe’s reluctant to wander nearby
With his grasshopper wings, he longs to fly.
Says the cow, "What disease has entered the pen
That my rear belongs to a rascally hen?"
Observe the Whalephant: whale wants the sea;
Elephant says, "It’s the jungle for you and me."
The lion has no horns, that’s his woe-
He joins with a deer; and now antlers grow!
Note: Khichuri is a common dish in India, a spicy mixture of rice and dal and means a mixture of diverse things.
Head Office’s Chief Babu was a very peaceful man-
And then he turned mental–who knew how it began?
He sat drowsing in his chair, smiling a happy smile
When suddenly, it seemed, something drove him wild.
He leapt up and flung his arms about, his eyes red as brick,
He shouted out, "I’m lost, I’m lost, do save me quick!"
Some ran for a doctor, some yelled "Police!" with all their might,
Some advised restraint: "Careful, he could bite!"
Everyone was rushing frantic, leaving letters untyped-
Then the Babu cried, "Oh help, my moustache has been swiped."
Lost his moustache? Incredible! How could it be?
But his handlebars were just the same, plain for all to see.
They tried to explain things, held a mirror to his face:
His whiskers weren’t stolen, that couldn’t be the case.
But angry as fire, an eggplant in hot oil, he sputtered and shook:
"I don’t believe a single man, I know each of you crooks.
Dirty and ragged, an over-used broom-an obvious pretender-
This kind of moustache was kept by Shyambabu’s milk vendor.
I’ll shoot the whole lot if you say this moustache is mine."
And right away he proclaimed for all a rather hefty fine.
Getting hotter by the minute, he wrote and underlined in red:
"Give anyone an inch of rope, they’ll climb up on your head.
These monkeys at the office, with brains of dung and hay-
Where my perfect moustache went, not one of them can say.
I should grab their whiskers and dance them up and down
Or shave their sorry heads with a spade upon their crown.
They claim the moustache is mine-as though it’s something you can own!
The moustache owns the man, my friend-that’s how we all are known."
Can you think of a few in your mother tongue? Do let us know. Budding poets, have fun! Let your imagination take you for a joyride. Be free!!
Soumi Basu is an editor at Oxford University Press (OUP), India.