February 7, 2014

There's No Knowing What We Shall See!

        It’s time for another fantasy poem, and this one comes to you from that master of the creepy absurd, Roald Dahl.  Dahl is famous for many fantasy books, featuring giants, witches, and, of course, magical chocolate factories, but my favorite was always James and the Giant Peach (1961).  In this poem the giant centipede in the giant peach is, not very comfortingly, encouraging James to set off on his escape from his wicked Aunts Spiker and Sponge.

'There is no knowing what we shall see!' cried the Centipede.

'We may see a Creature with forty-nine heads
Who lives in the desolate snow,
And whenever he catches a cold (which he 
          dreads)
He has forty-nine noses to blow.

'We may see the venomous Pink-Spotted 
          Scrunch
Who can chew up a man with one bite.
It likes to eat five of them roasted for lunch
And eighteen for its supper at night.

'We may see a Dragon, and nobody knows
That we won't see a Unicorn there.
We may see a terrible Monster with toes
Growing out of the tufts of his hair.

'We may see the sweet little Biddy-Bright Hen
So playful, so kind and well-bred;
And such beautiful eggs! You just boil them and then
They explode and they blow off your head.
'A Gnu and a Gnocerous surely you'll see
And that gnormous and gnorrible Gnat
Whose sting when it stings you goes in 
          at the knee
And comes out through the top of your 
          hat.

'We may even get lost and be frozen by 
          frost.
We may die in an earthquake or tremor.
Or nastier still, we may even be tossed
On the horns of a furious Dilemma.

'But who cares! Let us go from this 
          horrible hill!
Let us roll! Let us bowl! Let us plunge!
Let's go rolling and bowling and spinning until
We're away from old Spiker and Sponge!'

        Both rhythm and rhyme scheme are in keeping with the rollicking tone of the poem, tickling kids’ sense of satisfaction at turning the expectations of safe, everyday life on their heads.  I especially like the Monster with toes growing out of the tufts of his hair.  So keep your eyes open this weekend — there’s no knowing what you may see!  (But I trust your breakfast won’t blow your head off.)

[Pictures:  The centipede, or scolopendra, wood engraving by Thomas Bewick, c.1830;
Scolopendra Americana, engraving after Charles Plumier from A Journey to Paris in the Year 1698 (Images from The British Museum).]

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the poem to brighten my day. Quick question: is Dahl from New England that he rhymes "tremor" with "dilemma"? Personally, I know about the horns of a furious Dilemma. Not fun.

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  2. No, Dahl was British and certainly spoke a dialect in which tremor and dilemma rhyme.

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