By Mike Nettleton
Official Doggerel of the U.S. National Poetry team.
Ah, Spring. When I was a kid, I could always tell when Spring had arrived. My father would clear his throat and recite the following:
Spring has Sprung,
the sap has riz.
How I wonder where
the birdies is.
This, I came to find out, is a type of poetry known as doggerel. Webster says doggerel is:
Loosely styled and irregular in measure. Esp for burlesque or comic effect. Marked by triviality or inferiority.
I’m not sure I’m buying that. Most of us are much more likely to remember these shorties but goodies than lines from The Wreck of the Hesperus or Ode on a Grecian Urn.
Roses are red,
Violets are purple.
Sugar is sweet.
And so is maple syrup-ull.
A wonderful bird is the pelican
His bill will hold more than his belican
He can take in his beak
Enough food for a week
But I’m damned if I see how the helican!
That one is by a poet and humorist named Dixon Lanier Merrit. I’m sure he was a lot more fun at a party than Lord Byron or William Wordsworth.
The most famed doggerelist is probably Ogden Nash. This mid-twentieth century poet, author and playwright loved to play with words. Here are a couple of my favorites:
But Liquor’s quicker.
(And sex doesn’t rot the teeth.)
A Word to Husbands:
To keep your marriage brimming,
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.
And then there’s his tribute to the Burma Shave signs that used to line America’s highways.
Lather as you go:
Beneath this slab,
John Brown is stowed.
He watched the ads,
And not the road.
Reading the doggerel on the Burma Shave signs used to be the highlight of any family cross-country trip. They were short, funny and easy to recite. Imagine the following series of six signs, spaced perhaps 100 yards apart.
Now can snore
Six More minutes
The most famous doggerelistette may have been the acerbic-witted Dorothy Parker, famous for tossing off lines like:
Men seldom make passes,
At girls who wear glasses.
I like to have a martini.
Two at the very most.
After three I’m under the table.
After four I’m under the host.
Carolyn and I had to smile on a recent visit to Camas, a small, artsy town along the Columbia River east of Vancouver. A sign outside a brewpub read:
Rose are red,
violets are purple.
Poetry is hard.
Let’s have a beer.
You’re invited to submit your own favorite doggerel through the comments section on this blog.