Mad Gardener Songs

It is almost time to step into the classroom again and put my PhD to public service. I am scheduled to teach a series of writing courses at the local university this fall (Writing for the Ear, Writing for the Web, and Effective Academic Writing); and, looking through my files while preparing for them, I came across a little snippet of light verse, written in imitation of Lewis Carroll’s “The Mad Gardener’s Song.” I penned it some years back as a caveat to students of my poetry class, suggesting to eager explicators how not to treat poetry, how to let a work live and grow on you rather than cut it down to whatever size matches the reader’s intellect.

In the teaching of literature, the heart is often a more neglected organ than the ear; and in an effort to make sense of everything, we often take leave of our sensibility. As the aforementioned poet and radio dramatist Archibald MacLeish put it, “A poem must not mean/ But be.” It is an approach to art, rather than an attack on it.

Now, where does this leave the reader? Surely a poem must not simply be; it simply cannot be if it were not for the reader who brings it into being by tending to it like a gardener. After all, you cannot just leave an imaginary landscape be, let alone leave alone; you have to give it a chance to flourish before you try to yield the kinds of fruits that, according to the sensible if insensate mind, are just the stuff for good term paper.

I doubt this can happen in silent study or with an eye on the footnotes. It is our breath that brings words to life, which is why I read poetry and much else of literature aloud, feeling its rhythm and hearing it speak through me, in my voice. Call me mad, but if you tend to the imaginary landscape of poetry, you might as well sing.

It has been a while since last I expressed myself in light verse; so, without further rationalizing, hear my “Song”:

They thought they smelled ripe oranges
that teased them, “Follow me!”
They looked instead and found it was
the odd apostrophe.
“We’re proud we know what’s what,” they said,
“And move on happily.”

They thought they heard a waterfall
that shook them with its roar.
They looked instead and found it was
a plain old metaphor.
“We’re thrilled we figured that,” they said,
“Our ears were getting sore.”

They thought they felt a leaf of grass
that dared to disagree.
They looked instead and found it was
pathetic fallacy.
“We’re pleased we got that straight,” they said,
“A mere formality.”

They thought they tasted cakes and jam
that compromised their fast.
They looked instead and found they were
allusions to things past.
“We’re glad to ‘ve cleared that up,” they said,
“It all makes sense at last.”

2 Replies to “Mad Gardener Songs”

  1. Sir, is there no limit to your artistic ability? Some people, I think, forget or are unaware that art is an interactive and a living thing — not a commodity to be wrapped in cellophane and placed on a store shelf. … But not you.I love the highly apropos picture of the Ol\’ Professor, Kay Kyser.


  2. Thank you, graduate of the Kollege of Musical Knowledge. You know, my artistic and intellectual boundaries are fairly well defined, but I get sufficient use out of that plot so demarcated and derive enjoyment from being on the playing field I made of it—especially when others like you join in.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: