I was recently delighted to find myself a guest of a friend at Martha’s Vineyard this past Labor Day weekend. Not having been before I didn’t really know what to expect. On the whole my family and I found the weekend sublime and tasty, as lobsters are common there and very cheap to eat.
The home in which we stayed was a family cottage and there were several generations worth of books inside. While perusing the children’s section (where I found gems like 1980s Apple paperbacks of Mary Downing Hahn’s serious children’s novels without a ghost in sight) I ran across a little book of poetry called Parents Keep Out by Ogden Nash. From what I can tell it was published by Little, Brown and Company sometime around 1933 initially, though this particular edition was in its eleventh printing and was from 1951. Reading the Introduction feels like nothing so much as a dip into the world of Lemony Snicket. A sample:
“Since parents can’t keep out of anything, I resignedly address these words to them. Many parents will find that they have read some of the verses in previous book of mine. I shall not apologize. Anybody who has read previous books of mine is a trespasser in this one, which has been compiled for a younger generation. I do not regard it as a children’s book, however; I simply hope it is a book that anyone born less than fourteen or fifteen years ago many enjoy.”
It goes on to compare the speech that goes on between adults and children as akin to that of diplomats from foreign countries and says that if children like this book then “it is for the very reason that the Kremlin is gratified by any sign of the collapse of capitalism; watchful young eyes may here perceive indications of the breakup of the old people’s world.” What then follows are about 120 poems of varying lengths sporting titles like “Barmaids Are Diviner than Mermaids”, “The Passionate Pagan and the Dispassionate Public”, “Epstein, Spare that Yule Log!”, etc.
It was in my reading that I came across today’s thoroughly grand poem. One that shows that the more things change, the more things stay the same. Read it and try as you might not to think of Adam Gidwitz and his Grimm series. I dare you.
DON’T CRY, DARLING, IT’S BLOOD ALL RIGHT
Whenever poets want to give you the idea that something is particularly meek and mild,
They compare it to a child,
Thereby proving that though poets with poetry may be rife
They don’t know the facts of life.
If of compassion you desire either a tittle or a jot,
Don’t try to get it from a tot.
Hard-boiled, sophisticated adults like me and you
May enjoy ourselves thoroughly with Little Women and Winnie-the-Pooh,
But innocent infants these titles from their reading course eliminate
As soon as they discover that it was honey and nuts and mashed potatoes instead of human flesh that Winnie-the-Pooh and Little Women ate.
Innocent infants have no use for fables about rabbits or donkeys or tortoises or porpoises,
What they want is something with plenty of well-mutilated corpoises.
Not on legends of how the rose came to be a rose instead of a petunia is their fancy fed,
But on the inside story of how somebody’s bones got ground up to make somebody else’s
They go to sleep listening to the story of the little beggarmaid who got to be queen by
being kind to the bees and the birds,
But they’re all eyes and ears the minute they suspect a wolf or a giant is going to tear
some poor woodcutter into quarters and thirds.
It really doesn’t take much to fill their cup;
All they want is for somebody to be eaten up.
Therefore I say unto you, all you poets who are so crazy about meek and mild little
children and their angelic air,
If you are sincere and really want to please them, why just go out and get yourselves
devoured by a bear.
- Ogden Nash, Parents Keep Out
Today’s Poetry Friday is being hosted by Author Amok. Head on over there for the full round-up.