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I’ve carried many a wonderful limerick in my head during my day. Here are a couple of favorites.
While Titian was grinding rose madder
His model was posed on a ladder.
Her position to Titian
So he ran up the ladder and had her.
A dance team called Tom and Louise
Did a dance in the nude on their knees.
They crawled down the aisle
Fucking, dog style
While the orchestra played Kilmer’s Trees.
As you can see I particularly favor limericks which reference high art vulgarly and junk art obscenely. I also like my reverence thoroughly chopped with bathos, as the following, from the great Alan Watts, illustrates.
There was a young lady of Chichester
Whose beauty made saints in their niches stir.
One morning at mass
The curves of her ass
Made the Bishop of Chichester’s britches stir.
2016 11 08 The TV series Crown presenting King George played by Jared Harris reciting a marvelous limerick:
There was an old countess of Bray
And you may think it odd when I say
that despite her high station,
rank, and education
she always spelled cunt with K.
That immediately vaults to my short list. The funniest part, the most puissant anomaly, isn’t the use of the c-word — anybody can curse; it’s the necessity of imagining an old countess not only using the most taboo word but writing it! spelling it!
Yesterday I encountered an article claiming that this TV fare shows Queen Liz giving Prince Phil a blow job! off camera of course. bears watching no matter what.
2006 09 15 Limericks were popularized by Edward Lear but can be traced back at least to the early 1830s and of course could be older than that. Far older is that phenomenon of which limericks are a part: nonsense art: specifically nonsense verse.
None but a man of extraordinary taste can appreciate first-rate nonsense. Carolyn Wells (expanding on DeQuincey)
I devoured a lot of nonsense verse as an undergraduate, haven’t taken much time for it since: till yesterday I carried an anthology with me to the court house. I enjoyed again old favorites, and found samples I didn’t recognize.
Why and Wherefore set out one day
But the night was dark and they missed their mark,
If echoes from the fitful past
Is present pain a future bliss,
Is plenitude of passion palled
Note: I cite the limericks complete, but select from the others. I may not have always remembered to indicated omissions with an ellipsis.
Lines by a Medium
I might now, if I could;
If I may, can, shall — still
Note: Carolyn Wells comments on Lewis Carroll’s “economy of extravagance.” Beautiful.
There was an old person of Ware
Who rode on the back of a bear;
When they said, “Does it trot?”
He said: “Certainly not,
It’s a Moppsikon Floppsikon bear.
There once was an old man of Lyme
Who married three wives at a time;
When asked, Why a third?”
He replied, “One’s absurd!
And bigamy, sir, is a crime.”
There once was a person of Bean Inne,
Who wore clothes not fit to be seen in;
When told that he should n’t,
He replied, “Bumscrumrudent!”
A word of inscrutable meanin’.
Then, last evening, my brain fatigued, my spirit near broken, my mind halting, I had a thought: nonsense should be perfect for practicing form. Anyone should be able to improvise in the form of Eeny meeny miny moe … or of a limerick. And if you can write a nonsense limerick, then you certainly ought to be able to write a nonsense sonnet, a nonsense ode, nonsense blank verse, Sapphics, Spencerian stanzas, ottava rima … And if you can improvise nonsense odes, you’re not that far from being able to write a “real” ode.
One of the finest teaching devices I have ever beheld was executed by a professor teaching fast reading-German to graduate students in need of an extra language requirement for the PhD. He took us from no German to speed reading German in six weeks of just a few hours a week class time. He passed out a learned article in abstruse German: but he’d chopped all the words’ roots and substituted jabberwocky. We were FORCED to concentrate on the grammar. Once we understood the syntax, the vocabulary, the content, flowed fast and easy. In contrast, had we understood a few of the word roots, without having absorbed the syntax, we’d have been guessing at the content: and for sure, guessing wrong.
Then it occurred to me: By golly, some of my favorite art in other media, film, for example, shows sterling examples of what may well be nonsense. Notice in some of my examples above: there’s some extraordinary sense mixed in with the pure nonsense. It’s a mistake to labor allegories from a poem like Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, but, especially if you’ve a sense of my theory of Macroinformation, there may be all kinds of significances in nonsense, some of it meta-parallel to (ahem) “meaning.”
Then I thought of some favorite films: films by Tarkovsky, Roy Andersson’s Songs from the Second Floor … Actors are used, and objects from the “real” world. “Things” are used: familiar as both thing and symbol: water, crosses, all sort of religious iconography … Yet the movies could also scan perfectly as nonsense: nonsense with perfect grammar.
That’s art approaching Mozart: approaching Bach!
The formal can exalt mere content.
2017 02 01 Just came into my head:
The French, They Are a Funny Race,
They fight with their feet
And fuck with their face.
And while I’ at it, here are a couple of dirty school songs;
We are loyal and true
We don’t drink.
We don’t smoke.
Norfolk! Norfolk! Yay!