Tuesday, October 5, 2010

So Oddly Familiar . . .

What we have here, folks, is a case of what a writer wrote becoming bigger than the writer himself.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Writers want what they write to be recognized and loved – at least the writers I know and associate with. So if one of their creations becomes bigger than life itself, so much the better.

So here’s the familiar poem:

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe—
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
Into a sea of dew.
“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”
The old moon asked the three.
“We have come to fish for the herring fish
That live in this beautiful sea;
Nets of silver and gold have we!”
Said Wynken,
And Nod.

And here is this poem’s author: Denver journalist Eugene Field.

Here he is in Disneyfication, writing this most famous poem:

And here’s his poem, Disneyfied:

There are many, many, many renditions of this verse, from amateurs trying to do the Poet’s Voice on YouTube, to the Doobie Brothers and Carly Simon crooning their way through the song. If you like disco freaks and hippies, that is.

It’s quite possible I grew up knowing some of Eugene Field’s work, but it’s also just as likely that I’m more familiar with the humorous poems of Dutch author Jacob Cats, since those are the poems Dad remembered from his childhood. (I’d love to find some of Cats’ works in English, by the way. They’re extremely hard to find.)

Louis Untermeyer, inexplicably, offers up a rather dull Field poem called “Seein’ Things,” a dialectic account of a boy scared of monsters in his room and under his bed:

I ain’t afraid uv snakes or toads, or bugs or worms or mice,
An' things 'at girls are skeered uv I think are awful nice!
I'm pretty brave I guess; an' yet I hate to go to bed,
For, when I'm tucked up warm an snug an' when my prayers are said,
Mother tells me "Happy Dreams" an' takes away the light,
An' leaves me lyin' all alone an' seein' things at night!

It’s okay, and Untermeyer is right in saying it’s funny. But I like the more lyrical, ethereal tone and cadence of “Wynken, Blynken and Nod.” Poets often let the words and the rhymes and the dialects get in the way of the rhythm, making their writing incredibly hard to read from a lyrical sense. It’s no surprise that the simplicity of “Wynken” lends itself to be sung, and sung quite prettily. It’s like the difference between fences made of pickets or cinder blocks. The cinder block fence is sturdier and far uglier than the simple picket, which lets the wind blow through and the daisies grow between the pickets.

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