Tuesday, April 04, 2006

In which I talk of boating and nonsense verse and get all riled up

When I was a wee little tow-headed child I had two particularly favorite books that I made my parents read to me as often as possible.

The first is Winken, Blinken, and Nod, by Eugene Field. The first part of the first of 4 stanzas goes like this:

"Winken, Blinken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe --
Sailed off on a river of crystal light,
Into a sea of dew."

Full text of this nursery rhyme can be found here.

The second was "The Owl and the Pussycat,"by Edward Lear, which starts like this:

"The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat:
They took some honey, and plenty of money
Wrapped up in a five-pound note."

Full text (and pictures! and a short bio of the author! and an explanation of what a runcible spoon is!) can be found here.

Which gets me thinking - why were my 2 favorite books about boating, and posed in the form of nonsense verse?

The books were very tall and skinny and had hardbound covers and colorful pictures. The rhythym of the language comforted me, and the clever strangeness of the words interested me, I suppose. Let's face it, one was written in the 1800's, and the other was written in the, uh, 1800's, when people knew a lot of big and strange words that they sprinkled generously into not only their own adult conversation, but ladled liberally over works for children as well.

That era was one of excesses in language, decorating, fashion, and place settings. It was the age of bustles and petticoats and potted plants and runcible spoons, of large moustaches and long beards and elaborate hairdos and piano shawls and high-button boots and fish tongs and pickle forks, none of which are in vogue in this supposedly pared down and purposeful world.

Because, really,

Who has time to tell the difference between a red wine glass and a white wine glass or a champagne flute or a brandy snifter, when one has e-mails to attend to and answer in order that our self-esteeem issues and sense of self-importance remain well-fed?

Who is going to take the time to diagram a sentence or have Bible verse or poetry reciting contests when one needs to find out who's on Oprah and when TomKat's baby is going to be born or what the this season's latest "black" is, in order to have bits and pieces of "news" for superficial conversations at the virtual water cooler?

Why bother swathing your home in comfort and frippery by adorning dark corners with fanciful lamps in the shape of naiads and dwarves or bedecking your bookshelves with frilly paper edging, when someone is calling on the cell phone and it just might very well be the most important thing that's going to happen to you all day?

Sigh. Someone should do these things...

Someone should, before we loose the ability to focus on one thing or one enjoyment or one pursuit for more than thirty seconds.

Someone should, before we forget how to spend time doing nothing but enjoying what's around us.

Someone should, before we are subsumed entirely into a whirling vortex of electrical impulses that affix our brains into a permanently Pavlovian signal and response mode, forsaking careful thought for rapid reaction and considered wit for superficial productivity.

Which leads me to think that it seems that it's time for me to be the "someone" and take another boat ride, in which I do nothing but let the time go by and sense the waves as they rock my wee vessel from side to side and wait for the sun to set and think of nothing at all except Winken, Blinken, and Nod and an oddly matched pair of anthropomorphized lovers.

And leave the cell phone on shore.

12 comments:

Wordnerd said...

The first childhood book that I can remember leaving an impression on me was one called "Sam, Bangs, & Moonshine," and I seem to recall that the little girl couldn't stop lying or something like that...gonna have to look it up now!

tiff said...

Found this on amazon
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0805003150/002-9097591-4365651?v=glance&n=283155

I had never heard of this book!

Chelle said...

I loved books like those as a kid. I sometimes wish life was that simple again. Did anyone hear of ADD before the age of MTV?

tiff said...

MM3 - my brother, who is now 41, most certainly had ADD as a kid, except we just thought he was "bad." I can't imagine how hard that must have been for him...he could focus for a LONG time of stuff that interested him, but was skittish as a colt with the more mundane things in life (like school and church and sitting at the dinner table)

I wonder if our culture of instan-everything is actually GOOD for the ADD folks? Seems like it might be...

Chelle said...

I was wondering if the instant everything made ADD worse.

I think you might have hit on the good in our 5 sec society.

Wordnerd said...

You found the book! I'm ordering a copy. I never even thought it would still be around, but the Caldecott award is what saved it, I guess.

I'm thinking that what we call ADD today (all too often) was just good old-natured hyperactivity, and kids worked through it instead of immediately being put on medication. I think that our fast-fix lifestyle sometimes gets in the way of mother nature just ironing things out.

kenju said...

You're so funny! I loved those two stories also; they were in a book series I had when I was small called "My Book House". The illustrations were lovely, especially about the pea-green boat.

rennratt said...

As a kid, my favorite book was "Moose, Goose, and the Little Nobody". I still have it.

Nooz likes "A Weekend with Wendell" and "Oh, Baby, the places you'll go!"

I can recite both of them.
==========================
I also agree with the distraction problem. As a result, I was online for maybe 10 minutes from Sat-Monday. I spent a lot of time outside. I even had my morning coffee there yesterday, at 5 am!

tiff said...

Coincidentally - I just recalled that my kids' fave book when they were smaller was "The Magic Fish Rap." Don't ask y'all - I merely mention it because there's a theme going here.

I LOVE coffeee outside! And breakfast! And lunch for that matter....maybe a nice nap too. :>

Kenju - as I understand it, the original illustration forthe Owl and the Pussycat were done by the author.

hovatter62 said...

As a primary teacher for 22 years, I can say that I firmly believe that the media has played a huge part in the miniscule attention spans of our children nowadays. All the flickering images on TV, the nonstop movement of video games, the availability of video/DVD..... I think it rewires the kids' ability to concentrate and messes with their brain waves!

tiff said...

Hey Hov62 - it's good to have the expert weigh in. Has it been that long since we graduated from college?

(shudder)

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