For the Birds Radio Program: Light Verse
One of the great, whimsical joys in life is playing with words in light verse and limericks. Birds, which can be ethereally lovely, are also imbued with so many quirky, comical qualities that they’ve inspired some of the most enjoyable verses.
One of the early writers of light verse about birds was Edward Lear, whose poems are standard fare in many books for children as well as adults. He’s the one who wrote The Owl and the Pussycat, and also, in 1846:
There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!”
A famous limerick about the pelican is often erroneously attributed to Edward Lear or to a more modern poet, Ogden Nash. But The Pelican was actually written in 1910 by Dixon Lanier Merritt:
A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican.
He can take in his beak. Food enough for a week,
But I’m damned if I see how the helican.
Ogden Nash, one of my all-time favorites, wrote a lot of verse about birds in the 1930s and 40s. One of his earliest is The Phoenix:
Deep in the study.
We find that fabled.
Fowl, the Phoenix.
The wisest bird.
As ever was,
Mas and Pas,
It lays one egg,
Not ten or twelve,
And when it’s hatched,
Out pops itselve.
One of Nash’s most famous bird poems is The Duck:
Behold the duck.
It does not cluck.
A cluck it lacks.
It is specially fond.
Of a puddle or pond.
When it dines or sups,
It bottoms ups.
Nash also wrote The Turkey:
There is nothing more perky. Than a masculine turkey.
When he struts he struts. With no ifs or buts.
When his face is apoplectic.
His harem grows hectic,
And when he gobbles
Their universe wobbles.
Nash also wrote The Canary:
The song of canaries. Never varies,
And when they’re moulting. They’re pretty revolting.
And he also wrote The Gander:
Be careful not to cross the gander,
A bird composed of beak and dander,
His heart is filled with prideful hate
Of all the world except his mate.
And if the neighbors do not err
He’s overfond of beating her.
Is she happy? What’s the use
Of trying to psychoanalyze a goose?
Even though my big brother is a hunter, he too gets a kick out of Nash’s The Hunter:
The hunter crouches in his blind. ’Neath camouflage of every kind,
And conjures up a quacking noise. To lend allure to his decoys.
This grownup man, with pluck and luck,
Is hoping to outwit a duck.
These silly poems are all over half a century old, but light verse about birds is hardly a dying art. My favorite place to read fun poems nowis through the Internet news magazine Salon.com’s discussion site called Table Talk. One of the talented poets there, Nicholas Mitchell, posted a really cool one a week or so ago. It goes:
I was walking by the seashore in a pesky somber mood. When I chanced upon a peacock that was swimming in the nude.
Its plumage had been laid out like a fan upon the sand,
While the peacock’s head was bobbing several meters from the land.
I was tempted from my dolor to adorn myself with feathers. Not a theft, I thought, a trade, for I left the bird my leathers.
The brilliant green did suit me and complement my eyes,
And I’m certain that the peacock was favorably surprised.
That was Nicholas Mitchell, and I’m Laura Erickson, speaking For the Birds.
Copyright 2002 by Laura L. Erickson and Nicholas Mitchell. All rights reserved.