Nonsense verse

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Nonsense verse is a form of light, often rhythmical verse, usually for children, depicting peculiar characters in amusing and fantastical situations. It is whimsical and humorous in tone and tends to employ fanciful phrases and meaningless made-up words.[1] Nonsense verse is closely related to Amphigouri (Greek amphi- (q.v.) + gyros "circle," thus "circle on both sides," or from Gk. -agoria "speech"), which is a meaningless or nonsensical piece of writing, especially one intended as a parody.[2]

Limericks are probably the best known form of nonsense verse, although they tend nowadays to be used for bawdy or straightforwardly humorous, rather than nonsensical, effect.

Among writers in English noted for nonsense verse are Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Ogden Nash, Mervyn Peake, Colin West, Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss and Spike Milligan. The Martian Poets and Ivor Cutler are considered by some to be in the nonsense tradition.

Contents

Variants

In some cases, the humor of nonsense verse is based on the incompatibility of phrases which make grammatical sense but semantic nonsense at least in certain interpretations, as in the traditional:

Other nonsense verse makes use of nonsense words—words without a clear meaning or any meaning at all. Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear both made good use of this type of nonsense in some of their verse. These poems are well formed in terms of grammar and syntax, and each nonsense word is of a clear part of speech. The first verse of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky illustrates this nonsense technique, despite Humpty Dumpty's later explanation of some of the unclear words within it:

Other nonsense verse uses muddled or ambiguous grammar as well as invented words, as in John Lennon's "The Faulty Bagnose":

Here, awoy fills the place of "away" in the expression "far away", but also suggests the exclamation "ahoy", suitable to a voyage). Likewise, worled and gurled suggest "world" and "girl" but have the -ed form of a past-tense verb. "Somforbe" could possibly be a noun, possibly a slurred verb phrase. In the sense that it is a slurred verb, it could be the word "stumbled", as in Sam fell onto the drunk side and stumbled on a girl.

However not all nonsense verse relies on word play. Some simply illustrate nonsensical situations. For instance, Edward Lear's poem, The Jumblies has a comprehensible chorus:

However, the significance of the color of their heads and hands is not apparent and the verse appears to be nonsense.

Likewise, a poem by Christopher Isherwood from his Poems Past and Present (J.M. Dent and Sons (Canada) Ltd. fourth printing, 1959) makes grammatical and semantic sense and yet lies so earnestly and absurdly that it qualifies as complete nonsense:

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