Nonsense and Some Sense Verse Smackdown, Round 3B
(Revisit Round 1, Round 2, the Musical Intermission, and Round 3A)
Thanks to a combination of sloppy planning and absolutely no sense of time (which may be the exact same thing), I've had to extend the giveaway for another two weeks. (Ha! I'll bet you thought I was going to say that I had to backdate the post two days! But yeah, that, too.) Remember that the announcement of the giveaway winner is traditionally made with the announcement of the smackdown champion! My hope is that if I'm amusing enough, like J.K. Rowling, who won last week's little face-off, that you'll all forgive me.
And even if you don't the last two W&Q 29 stragglers will! Right, ladies? ;-P
But back to the brackets: today, we're going to see which of our last two contenders gets to enter the finals on the back of a poem about a FAMOUS FIGURE.
The Funny Four
Hilaire Belloc . . .
The most famous of Hilaire Belloc's funny poems are those about beasts and "bad" children. And if you remember that Pelagius was one of the "bad" children of Christendom, you'll see that Belloc's Pelagian Drinking Song fits right into his oeuvre!
"Lord, make my enemies ridiculous," the atheist Voltaire "prayed." He was on to something. When it is easy to make fun of someone, it is also easy to dismiss his arguments without giving them their due. That's not fair, of course, even if the thinkers behind them risk lives (and possibly souls) with their ideas. And now I know why a friend of mine has dismissed Belloc as a bully. That is, what Biff Tannen would be like as a sincere convert.
Another reason this poem is pure Belloc is that it celebrates wine. Drinking songs probably aren't the best way to deal with heresy--but we can't all write serious philosophical treatises that don't scan, can we, St. Augustine? You might even say that the drinking song is what comes after the philosophical treatise: the victory chant after the routing of the threat to Christendom. And then we go back to the bully problem, since rubbing it in doesn't seem very Christian. =P
What is Christian, however, is a sense of gratitude. And in this song, Belloc is actually grateful for the "howling heretics"--even if only in the same breath as the "temporal sword." But it's not an accidental juxtaposition. It is thanks to sturdy stone walls, even if we choose to run outside them, that we can enjoy violent storms. Or if you prefer, it is thanks to Marty McFly who fixes everything that we can have fun watching Biff trying to ruin everyone else's life. When we know that our victory is assured--and for Christians, it is--how wonderful the world suddenly appears! Geben mir den Bier, bitte!
. . . Laura E. Richards
We have another philosopher here, in a poem that is much nicer to him. Which is to say that it's not mean-spirited. But as a fair representation of what that philosopher is about, it misses the mark in a whole other way. As fun as The Gargoyle and the Griffin is, it tells us nothing about Confucius except that he has a name that sounds funny to Anglophones.
Now, Laura E. Richards is at her best when she plays around with the sounds of words, as she does in her poem Eletelephony. So you'd think she'd be able to ride the obvious pun in Confucius much further than "Confushy" . . . or "grucious." =P And perhaps she would have in a poem that was really about him and not about gargoyles, griffins, and gorgons. It's not even clear what he's doing here!
The "origin story" is another genre that lends itself well to humourous verse. (Is there a term I can use that doesn't immediately suggest comic books?) It was only the first man's privilege to name the animals, but a bit of his creativity is in each of his descendants who has made up an outrageous animal myth. Extra points for animals and other creatures that probably never existed at all, because then they are metaphors for human nature! But now I feel that I'm raising the bar even higher on Richards' unambitious, but unpretentious offering.
As for Confucius, he really existed--and as far as I can tell, he didn't have to much to say about animals, mythical or otherwise. (His follower Mencius seems to have cared more about our furry, feathered, and scaled friends; but all the poems I've found about him are dead serious.) Whether his philosophy at least reflected in the prudent choice to stand behind the organ-playing gorgon (I know, right . . .), I will let the scholars decide.
Winner: Hilaire Belloc . . . because, Biff.
Today's face-off features two writers who were seriously considered for the Silly Sixteen and for whom it would be unjust not get at least an honourable mention.
Peter Newell vs. Mervyn Peake
I am ultimately at peace with my decision to leave Peter Newell out of tournament bracket. As funny as some of his verse is, he was really more of an artist than a writer. But I wouldn't say that his humourous illustrations came first and the rhymes came later, like captions. Having enjoyed many of his drawings, my (totally inexpert) opinion is that word and image in his work are twins--always born at the same time, the resemblance between them unmistakable. But if you pushed me to say which twin crowned first, well, okay: the art. On the other hand, I still feel bad about Mervyn Peake not getting a fair chance--which happened only because only six of his nonsense poems are available online and I couldn't have bought a copy of his Book of Nonsense to do a proper bracket. In this face-off, let's judge Newell and Peake not just by the strength of the former's whimsical Educated Love Bird and the latter's philosophical Crocodiles, but also by Newell's Jungle-Jangle and Peake's five other fantastic nonsense poems on his site.
If you're also playing for Philippine Literature Giveaway points, here's your Rafflecopter!
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Image Sources: a) Peter Newell, b) Mervyn Peake