Tuesday, September 07, 2004

John Hollander is a genius

A little while back I quoted from John Hollander's brilliant Ghazal, in Agha Shahid Ali's anthology Ravishing Disunities. Then today I came across another (slightly) Indian-themed poem in an anthology called Poetry 180 (edited by Billy Collins).

It begins with a particularly maddening/surreal epigram from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

"For Fiddle-de-dee"
by John Hollander

"What's the French for fiddle-de-dee?" "Fiddle-de-dee's not English," Alice replied gravely. "Whoever said it was," said the Red Queen...

What's the French for "fiddle-de-dee"?
But "fiddle-de-dee's not English" (we
Learn from Alice, and must agree).
The "Fiddle" we know, but what's from "Dee"?
Le chat assis in an English tree?

--Well what's the French for "fiddle-de-dench"?
(That is to say, for "monkey wrench")
--Once in the works, it produced a stench.

What's the Greek for "fiddle-de-dex"?
(That is to say, for "Brekekekex")
--The frog-prince turned out to be great at sex.


What's the Pali for "fiddle-de-dally"?
(That is to say, for "Silicon Valley")
--Maya deceives you: the Nasdaq won't rally.

What's the Norwegian for "fiddle-de-degian"?
(That is to say, for "His name is Legion")
--This aquavit's known in every region.

What's the Punjabi for "fiddle-de-dabi"?
(That's to say, for "crucifer lobby")
--They asked for dall but were sent kohl rabi.

Having made so free with "fiddle-de-dee,"
What's to become now of "fiddle-de-dum"?
--I think I know. But the word's still mum.