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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Favorite Silly Poems and Rhymes

Introducing Clayton to Spiderman 

When my son Clayton was a little boy I taught him some of the silly verses that have stayed with me all my life, and that still amuse me at odd moments.  Here’s one:

Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Gee, I wish he’d go away!

And here’s another with a very clever rhyme at the end:

Shake and shake the ketchup bottle
First none’ll come and then
A lot’ll

So, instead of a heavy tome on politics or social issues, I thought I’d devote a blog post to giving you some of my favorite items along these same lines. 

I trust you know this riddle and its famous solution:

As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives,
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits:
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,
How many were there going to St. Ives?

Before you get all tangled in an algorithm trying to do the multiple multiplications, be warned that the question has a trick, and therefore results in a simple answer.  See if you can solve it, and if not just google for the solution.

Some of these brainworms have a vulgar side.  This one I saw scribbled on the wall of a toilet stall, and it fixed itself forever in my brain:

I was done before I started
I came to shit but only farted

Another favorite poem:

The pig, if I am not mistaken,
Supplies us sausage, ham and bacon,
Let others say his heart is big--
I call it stupid of the pig.

Ogden Nash

Ogden also had this advice on how to make your party a success:

Mark Twain concocted one of the greatest brainworms of all time.  He originally called it “A Literary Nightmare,” but these days it’s much better known by the jingle that causes all the trouble in the very short story: “Punch, Brothers, Punch.”  You can have it read to you in thirteen funny minutes at, but be warned that the rhyme in the story will cause you problems for days.

Since I was eleven years old I’ve been a major fan of the works of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, who created classic comic operettas in Victorian England [for my blog post on point see “A Fanatic’s Tale (This Isn’t Pretty)”;].  Gilbert, who wrote the words for Sullivan’s music, began his career writing silly poems, and I’ll close this post with the most famous of these.  I was at a play last year when I was pleased to see one of the characters, a fisherman, enter singing the same song appearing in the poem.

The Yarn of the 'Nancy Bell'

by W.S. Gilbert

'Twas on the shores that round our coast
From Deal to Ramsgate span,
That I found alone on a piece of stone
An elderly naval man.

His hair was weedy, his beard was long,
And weedy and long was he,
And I heard this wight on the shore recite,
In a singular minor key:

"Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold,
And the mate of the Nancy brig,
And a bo'sun tight, and a midshipmite,
And the crew of the captain's gig."

And he shook his fists and he tore his hair,
Till I really felt afraid,
For I couldn't help thinking the man had been drinking,
And so I simply said:

"O, elderly man, it's little I know
Of the duties of men of the sea,
But I'll eat my hand if I understand
How you can possibly be

"At once a cook, and a captain bold,
And the mate of the Nancy brig,
And a bo'sun tight, and a midshipmite,
And the crew of the captain's gig."

Then he gave a hitch to his trousers, which
Is a trick all seamen larn,
And having got rid of a thumping quid,
He spun this painful yarn:

"'Twas in the good ship Nancy Bell
That we sailed to the Indian sea,
And there on a reef we come to grief,
Which has often occurred to me.

"And pretty nigh all o' the crew was drowned
(There was seventy-seven o' soul),
And only ten of the Nancy's men
Said 'Here!' to the muster-roll.

"There was me and the cook and the captain bold,
And the mate of the Nancy brig
And the bo'sun tight, and a midshipmite,
And the crew of the captain's gig.

"For a month we'd neither wittles nor drink,
Till a-hungry we did feel,
So we drawed a lot, and accordin' shot
The captain for our meal.

"The next lot fell to the Nancy's mate,
And a delicate dish he made;
Then our appetite with the midshipmite
We seven survivors stayed.

"And then we murdered the bo'sun tight,
And he much resembled pig,
Then we wittled free, did the cook and me,
On the crew of the captain's gig.

"Then only the cook and me was left,
And the delicate question, 'Which
Of us two goes to the kettle?' arose
And we argued it out as sich.

"For I loved that cook as a brother, I did,
And the cook he worshipped me;
But we'd both be blowed if we'd either be stowed
In the other chap's hold, you see.

"'I'll be eat if you dines off me,' says Tom,
'Yes, that,' says I, 'you'll be,' --
'I'm boiled if I die, my friend,' quoth I,
And 'Exactly so,' quoth he.

"Says he, 'Dear James, to murder me
Were a foolish thing to do,
For don't you see that you can't cook me,
While I can -- and will -- cook you!'

"So he boils the water, and takes the salt
And the pepper in portions true
(Which he never forgot) and some chopped shalot,
And some sage and parsley too.

"'Come here,' says he, with a proper pride,
Which his smiling features tell,
' 'Twill soothing be if I let you see,
How extremely nice you'll smell.'

"And he stirred it round and round and round,
And he sniffed at the foaming froth;
When I ups with his heels, and smothers his squeals
In the scum of the boiling broth.

"And I eat that cook in a week or less,
And -- as I eating be
The last of his chops, why, I almost drops,
For a wessel in sight I see!

"And I never grin, and I never smile,
And I never larf nor play,
But I sit and croak, and a single joke
I have -- which is to say:

"Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold,
And the mate of the Nancy brig,
And a bo'sun tight, and a midshipmite,
And the crew of the captain's gig!"

The Young William S. Gilbert
Related Posts:

A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;
“A Fanatic’s Tale (This Isn’t Pretty),” April 11, 2010;]. 
 “The Best of My Library,” August 27, 2010; 
 “Doug’s Favorite Jokes,” November 13, 2010;
“Five Movies I Watch Again and Again,” March 20, 2011;

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Singing and Dancing in Sondheim’s Roman Farce with My Husband (Again)

As explained before on this blog, in 1961 I joined the Navy just out of high school and spent a year aboard ship [see “Douglas Whaley, Deckhand,”], before being transferred to the island of Bermuda (!) for my final year of active duty  [see “My Year in Bermuda,” February 9, 2010,].  I’ve always been interested in Broadway musicals, and while in Bermuda I first heard the score of the original cast album of the new show “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” (hereafter “FTH”—typing that all out over and over is a chore).  This slapstick farce of a musical has a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (first effort at writing both).  It is melodic, very funny, and was a major hit, running for three years on Broadway (and much revived since—in 1996 I saw the wonderful production that starred Nathan Lane as Pseudolus, the conniving slave who manages to trick every other character in the show at some point).

But when I was 19 and listening to the original cast album in Bermuda I decided my favorite song was the amusing (and beautifully rhymed) duet for the Roman patrician Senex and his son, Hero, both of whom are attracted to the same young woman, realize this startling fact, and then contemplate whether it could be true that she returns both of their affections.  The song is called “Impossible” and ends with the father and son, much upset by this, concluding:

The situation’s fraught!
Fraughter than I thought!
With horrible, impossible, possibilities!

I laughed out loud at “fraughter,” and for the first time admired the cleverness of Stephen Sondheim.  I’ve been his fan ever since.

[Senex Thinks He Gets the Girl (Sidney Friend)]

What never occurred to me was that when I was an old man I would be on the stage singing that very song, playing the role of Senex (who also gets to perform the lead part in the show stopper number, “Everybody Ought To Have a Maid”).  [The photos are from rehearsals.]  

["Maid" Song: Glenn Garcia, David Vargo, Christopher Storer, and me]

Not only that, it would have also surprised the young me that with me on that stage would be my very own husband, the extremely talented David Vargo, having a great time as Hysterium, the “Slave In Chief” to Senex!  It’s our second musical together.  Last year we also were in Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” 

David and the wonderful Christopher Storer (Pseudolus)

And once again we’re performing with the terrific people at Little Theatre Off Broadway in Grove City, Ohio (a suburb on the south side of Columbus).  There is a large cast, a wonderful director and musical director, a dedicated crew, and an elaborate set and colorful costumes.  The whole thing is very funny.  Come see FTH and be prepared to laugh steadily for two hours at our antics in ancient Rome!

[A British Production of FTH]

Here is the contact information:

Related Posts:

A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;

“Douglas Whaley, Deckhand,” December 22, 2010;

“My Year in Bermuda,” February 9, 2010;

“My Husband, the Actor,” May 31, 2014;

“Douglas Whaley, Actor,” August 14, 2010;