Thursday, June 18, 2009

Poetry Friday: Ted Geisel

My brother's little daughter is almost two years old, and of course impossibly adorable. I babysat her not too long ago. Her favorite tape (she's still analog) is a recording of "The Cat in the Hat," by Dr. Suess, of course, read by David Hyde Pierce. I was only with her for 36 hours but I heard it at least 9 or 10 times. Easy.

On the way to the train station, at the end of my stay, the tape was on in the car. My brother (David) and I got to talking about how very subversive the whole poem is. Suppression of ego in favor of id. Sexual desire as personified by the Cat. Abandonment issues. Confessional narratives. Goldfish as Chorus. Et al.

Which led us to ask each other (as the adorable niece dozed in the car seat): What is the BEST line in that book? What's the single most daring idea, most challenging to the status quo?

I don't remember what David said, but for me it has got to be this one:

You sank our toy boat,
Sank it deep in the cake,

"Sank it deep in the cake"!!! That is just THE most anarchic line a writer could write. The pathos of "You sank our toy boat." (The poignancy of "toy boat.") The sadness of the realization that a toy boat can be sunk! AND AS IF THAT IS NOT ENOUGH -- where did the Cat sink it? DEEP IN THE CAKE! The madness that suggests! How can a cake and a toy boat even be in the same place? And if it's deep in the cake, then the cake must be a layer cake. The effort it takes to make one of those (and in 1957, yet -- no mixes). And to frost it. All ruined in a moment. In two lines of handsome dactyls, we understand the enormity of the havoc the Cat has wreaked. Toy: demystified; boat: sunk; cake: ruined; home: violable; thin membrane that holds society together: DESTROYED.

And the niecelet: she may be only two, but as you can see, she was not missing a thing.

If there's another candidate for best Dr. Seuss line, bring it on.


lizzy_lyn said...

Some are red. And some are blue. Some are old. And some are new. Some are sad. And some are glad. And some are very, very bad.

Good stuff to remember.

Rick Daley said...

I would have to go with the last line, "What would you do if your mother asked you?"

Inviting the children into the decision making process and giving credence to their judgment elevates them as readers and as people. They are now part of the story.

There are many layers to Geisel's works. "Oh, the Places You'll Go" applies to me as a 37 year old as much as it does my young sons. Or look at the symbolism behind Yertle the Turtle, or the foreshadowing of environmental destruction in The Lorax, which is even more relevant today than when it was written (that story matures like a fine wine...which is unfortunate, given its message).

Dot said...

"It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how."

This line helps me when I'm being too much like the fish.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

On the bright side...

Imagine the fun eating all that cake - AND retrieving your toy boat!

Haste yee back ;-)

Yat-Yee said...

What does the niecelet think the best line is?

(I cannot decide which Dr. Seuss lines are the best. Cowardly? Lazy? No, I refuse to choose just one. I want them ALL!)

Con said...

Did you ever fly a kite in bed?
Did you ever walk with ten cats on your head?
Did you ever milk this kind of cow? Well, we can do it. We know how. If you never did, you should.
These things are fun and fun is good.

The best self-help advice ever, from Dr. Seuss.

janetmacha said...

Thanks for highlighting Dr. Seuss! His piercing, timeless insights are the best.

"They say that when the world is done
And the ever-present striving gone
What remains are the memories
of the stories and the music
Shimmering in the air
Like gold dust."

Anonymous said...

I use to watch that show, very funny hehe I remember once my mom send my to watch it and I was looking the channel and I left natgeo and a generic viagra documental and my mom was looking me weird like saying why are you looking that ? xD