Sunday, June 6, 2010

Learning from silliness

There's something to be learned about writing well - not from clever use of political talking points, or perfectly grammatical and logically pristine paragraphs (semicolons and colons all used to perfection), or the capture and squeezing of nuances and figures of speech until they squeal - but in pure sound.

Once again I call on a poem found by Natalie Merchant, this one by a British writer named Marvyn Peake (1911-1968). He called it "It Makes a Change":

There's nothing makes a Greenland whale
Feel half so high and mighty
As sitting on a mantelpiece
In Aunty Mabel's nighty.
It makes a change from Freezing Seas,
(Of which a whale can tire),
To warm his weary tail at ease
Before an English fire.
For this delight he leaves the seas
(Unknown to Aunty Mabel),
Returning only when the dawn
Lights up the Breakfast Table.

Of course the poem is silly. A whale dropping by to perch on a mantel to enjoy the fire's warmth (and a nighty), then disappearing near dawn? But you can see little children grinning as they listen. Grinning at the silliness, sure. But grinning, more deeply, at the sounds. As so are we.

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