Saturday, January 29, 2011

"...I've married one of Shakespeare's dreams."

Here's you a name-that-poet test. I've just run across a poem from a poet I have read all my life...but I've never read this particular poem. His point is that being in love makes all the cliches that sounded so trite, suddenly be real and fresh and new again -- and it ends with the following lines, the last couplet of which goes straight into the Pantheon as far as I'm concerned.

Darling, when I look at you
Every aged phrase is new,
And there are moments when it seems
I've married one of Shakespeare's dreams.


(That's what poets are for, by the way: to say exactly what you feel better than you could have possibly said it yourself. "I've married one of Shakespeare's dreams..." Yes, exactly!)

So who was our mystery poet? The answer (which I would never have guessed)...well, here's the whole poem, called "Reprise." See if you figure it out before I tell you at the end.

Geniuses of countless nations
Have told their love for generations
Till all their memorable phrases
Are common as goldenrod or daisies.
Their girls have glimmered like the moon,
Or shimmered like a summer moon,
Stood like a lily, fled like a fawn
Now the sunset, now the dawn,
Here the princess in the tower
There the sweet forbidden flower.
Darling, when I look at you
Every aged phrase is new,
And there are moments when it seems
I've married one of Shakespeare's dreams.


The poet? Ogden Nash, of all people! The best nonsense poet ever, I think (even better than Edmund Lear), a man whose "Ode to the Llama" I memorized as a small child:

The one-l lama, he's a priest.
The two-ll llama, he's a beast.
And I would bet a silk pajama
There isn't any
Three-lll lllama.


After Kasia was born, however, my favorite Ogden Nash poem became his "Song To Be Sung by the Father of Infant Female Children." (Note, for example, such quintessentially Nashian lines as "Oh sweet be his slumber and moist his middle! / My dreams, I fear, are infanticiddle.")


My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky;
Contrariwise, my blood runs cold
When little boys go by.
For little boys as little boys,
No special hate I carry,
But now and then they grow to men,
And when they do, they marry.
No matter how they tarry,
Eventually they marry.
And, swine among the pearls,
They marry little girls.

Oh, somewhere, somewhere, an infant plays,
With parents who feed and clothe him.
Their lips are sticky with pride and praise,
But I have begun to loathe him.
Yes, I loathe with loathing shameless
This child who to me is nameless.
This bachelor child in his carriage
Gives never a thought to marriage,
But a person can hardly say knife
Before he will hunt him a wife.

I never see an infant (male),
A-sleeping in the sun,
Without I turn a trifle pale
And think is he the one?
Oh, first he'll want to crop his curls,
And then he'll want a pony,
And then he'll think of pretty girls,
And holy matrimony.
A cat without a mouse
Is he without a spouse.

Oh, somewhere he bubbles bubbles of milk,
And quietly sucks his thumbs.
His cheeks are roses painted on silk,
And his teeth are tucked in his gums.
But alas the teeth will begin to grow,
And the bubbles will cease to bubble;
Given a score of years or so,
The roses will turn to stubble.
He'll sell a bond, or he'll write a book,
And his eyes will get that acquisitive look,
And raging and ravenous for the kill,
He'll boldly ask for the hand of Jill.
This infant whose middle
Is diapered still
Will want to marry
My daughter Jill.

Oh sweet be his slumber and moist his middle!
My dreams, I fear, are infanticiddle.
A fig for embryo Lohengrins!
I'll open all his safety pins,
I'll pepper his powder, and salt his bottle,
And give him readings from Aristotle.
Sand for his spinach I'll gladly bring,
And Tabasco sauce for his teething ring.
Then perhaps he'll struggle through fire and water
To marry somebody else's daughter.


And then, out of nowhere, this master of light verse comes up with:

And there are moments when it seems
I've married one of Shakespeare's dreams.


P.S. It having just struck me that "Ogden Nash" was probably a pen name, I went to Wikipedia to find out what his real name was. ("Frederic Ogden Nash," if you're curious.) And there I found a reference to my old friend "Ode to the Llama," with a footnote I'd never seen before: "The author's attention has been drawn to the existence of a type of conflagration known as the 'three-alarmer.' Pooh."

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