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Rhythm and Rhyme

The ads almost burst off of the teevee in a whirl of color and action.  The Lorax, the Movie is here!

It appears to be set after the book and wonderful Chuck Jones cartoon made by Dr. Seuss himself, so they may avoid stepping on the original.  But …  but …

No.  I cannot see the craft of the great Dr. Seuss at all in the brief ads.  Let us talk about the craft of rhyme, the meter of language.

“But now,” says the Once-ler
“Now that you’re here,
the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.
UNLESS someone like you
Cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better.
It’s not.”

I chose this passage from the end of The Lorax to illustrate the power of Seuss and his incredible craft.  There was much more to his books than simple children’s stories dotted with great round drawings with odd colors and patterns.  His use of language got his message into the guts in ways that generations who grew up with the meter cannot fully understand.  That is true power.

In this passage, the meter is actually a bit broken and stilted.  But that break adds emphasis to particular words.  UNLESS is in caps, but when reading it outloud, as these books must be, the meter falls on “you”.  They rub against each other, pulling the reader and the listener into the page in a dialogue, often across generations just before the world of dreams takes over.

“Should I put this speck down? …” Horton thought with alarm.
“If I do, these small persons may come to great harm.
I can’t put it down.  And I won’t! After all
A person’s a person.  No matter how small.”

The meter and rhyme are why songs get into your head, especially when they have a catchy melody.  Rap dispenses with melody and hits you with the power of pure language, which when done well is a blinding force.  You can’t ever forget it.

Most people would never say that Dr. Seuss wrote great works of literature, but that was never his intent.  He started out as an advertising man, selling Flit bug spray (“Quick Henry, the Flit!”) and other products.  And then he wanted to do something more with his talent.  The result plays out at many bedtimes every night.

Many of you have read my poems, which appear every few months or so.  They aren’t popular in particular, but they have a purpose.  All writing must have this sense of rhythm and emphasis if it is going to work.  A complete list of my humble works can be found in my portfolio if you’d like to see them.  They are as much exercises in my practice of this craft as they are small bits of entertainment.

I was not up to doing such a piece today.  I want to know what you think about Dr. Seuss, Rap, Poetry, and the use of rhyme and rhythm in ordinary prose.  What do you say when a great work like the Lorax becomes a jumping off point for something so … so terribly ordinary looking?

You won’t see the Once-ler
Don’t knock at his door
He stays in his Lerkim on top of his store
He lurks in his Lerkim, cold under the roof,
where he makes his own clothes
out of miff-muffered moof.

And then there are those words, those invented words that chuff along the bounce of the rhythm.  What is the place for them?

While writing is a craft that requires practice and critical observation to hone, not everyone can develop the level of skill practiced by Dr. Seuss.  But there is a lot to be learned from his work which can brighten and inform even the driest of subjects.  For the Lorax, it is teaching the concepts of balance and love for the world around us.  It could preach, but it found another way.

The Once-ler should have been left alone.  What should have been revitalized is the skill of Dr. Seuss.  But we can all do this if we try.

13 thoughts on “Rhythm and Rhyme

  1. Words, rhythm, rhyme and voice combine to reach us in ways that may be out of our awareness, yet affect us so powerfully. A father-to-be read passages of Shakespeare aloud in the third trimester of his wife’s pregnancy. When he read the same passages to the baby at two or three months old, there were clear signs that the baby was tuning in with excitement.

  2. I absolutely love your poems! I wish you would do more of them. Poetry is so out of the ordinary that it really stands out. I am not much into rap but I can see why people like some of it. At least the ones that are not violent. They say things in a way that you can not otherwise.

    • Thanks! I would do more of them if I had more time. It would be great to do one a month, at least, so I’ll try to pick up the pace.
      I do think this could be something I could sell to an online magazine, but no one has bit yet (hint!). It certainly is an unusual thing for the ‘net.

  3. Rhyme is very powerful. I sure remember a lot of Dr Suess even through it ha been years since I read it. The Lorax was very powerful and it stayed with me. I agree that the new movie looks really bad and not at all like the original which is sad.

    • It very much stayed with me, too. I couldn’t help but cry when I read it to my kids for the first time – it had been years, yet I knew it so well. I brought out my copy today to make sure I got the quote just right (the first one is also on my quotations page!) and so many memories came back. It means so much. To wreck it is a very personal affront.

  4. The environmental movement definitely took hold like nothing else. Who does not recycle for one? And I think that the Lorax is the one thing that everyone remembers most. There was not any one speech that made the movement like the I Have a Dream did for civil rights. So you have a good point here.
    The more I think about it the new movie sounds like a very bad thing. And maybe people should learn more from the Lorax if they want to make a big difference.
    More poems! They are a lot of fun. Maybe one day you will get your message across too.

    • An excellent point, thanks! I may yet try to make a poem of some kind about the Managed Depression. Reading Dr. Seuss carefully shows me that the hard part – maintaining a constant rhythm and rhyme – is not as essential as I thought, and breaks can be very powerful. I am learning and may be able to tackle some economics in poems. That’s a challenge!
      Once I built a railroad, made it run,
      Made it race against time.
      Once I built a railroad – now it’s done.
      Brother, can you spare a dime?

  5. Nice article, but “The Lorax” was not a Chuck Jones cartoon, as were “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” and “The Cat in the Hat”. “The Lorax” was produced by David DePatie and Fritz Freleng (aka DePatie/Freleng Productions). The mistake is understandable.

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