Nonsense verse

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018

Nonsense verse

Nonsense verse: A type of light verse, typically humorous or whimsical, that does not make conventional sense and is often written for children. Nonsense verse is characterized by an emphasis on playfulness, rhythm, and sound effects; use of the absurd, illogical, or unlikely; and incorporation of nonce words, i.e., words coined for and used on one occasion. Although difficult if not impossible to paraphrase, nonsense verse is seldom meaningless. Noted practitioners include nineteenth-century English writers Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, turn-of-the-nineteenth-century German writer Christian Morgenstern, twentieth-century Russian poet Kornei Chukovsky, and twentieth-century American poets Ogden Nash, Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), Edward Gorey, and Shel Silverstein. Much nonsense verse has also been written anonymously, such as the nursery rhyme “Hey diddle diddle.”

FURTHER EXAMPLES: Lear’s A Book of Nonsense (1846), a collection of limericks for children; D’Arcy W. Thompson’s Nursery Nonsense; or, Rhymes without Reason (1865); Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky” (1871), the first two stanzas of which follow:

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”

Twentieth-century examples of nonsense verse include An Alliterative Alphabet Aimed at Adult Abecedarians (1947), by husband-and-wife team Huger Elliott and Elizabeth Shippen Green; Dr. Seuss’s One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (1960); and the Beatles’ song “I Am the Walrus” (1967). Jack Prelutsky has written numerous collections of nonsense verse for children, including Be Glad Your Nose Is on Your Face and Other Poems (2008) and Sardines Swim High Across the Sky and Other Poems (2013).