Poetry Wednesday: Sit and Spin the Fire

What with one thing and another, I’m operating on about four hours sleep,* so please forgive me if this post is occasionally interrupted with a row of ggggggggggggghjjjjjjjjjjjkffffffs, as my nose is hovering pretty close to the keyboard right now.


And I thought to myself, How nice it is
For me to live in a world like this,
Where things can happen, and clocks can strike,
And none of the people are made alike;

Where Love wants this, and Pain wants that,
Where all our hearts want Tit for Tat
In the jumbles we make with our heads and our hands,
In a world that nobody understands

—From “I Saw a New World” by William Brighty Rands

After a brief search last night, I found the perfect poem for this week’s shenanigans, but unfortunately, I don’t have permission to share it here, and I refuse to risk the ire of The Trustees of the Pooh Properties or Curtis Brown on my salary, so please click here if you’re interested and read it aloud for the full effect—it dances.

But while I was casting about for something similar to that perfect poem and that wouldn’t get me sued, I found this and had to follow up:

Topsy-Turvy World
(William Brighty Rands)

If the butterfly courted the bee,
And the owl the porcupine;
If churches were built in the sea,
And three times one was nine;
If the pony rode his master,
If the buttercups ate the cows,
If the cats had the dire disaster
To be worried, sir, by the mouse;
If mamma, sir, sold the baby
To a gypsy for half a crown;
If a gentleman, sir, was a lady,—
The world would be Upside-down!
If any or all of these wonders
Should ever come about,
I should not consider them blunders,
For I should be Inside-out!


Baa-baa, black wool,
Have you any sheep?
Yes, sir, a packfull,
Creep, mouse, creep!
Four-and-twenty little maids
Hanging out the pie,
Out jump’d the honey-pot,
Guy Fawkes, Guy!
Cross latch, cross latch,
Sit and spin the fire;
When the pie was open’d,
The bird was on the brier!

It came as no surprise to me that William Brighty Rands was quite a well-known writer of nursery rhymes and children’s poems in his day**—he certainly knew the genre.

He and his contemporary Charles Dodgson—Lewis Carroll to you and me—clearly subscribed to the newfangled idea that what young Victorian minds needed most was a large dollop of silliness. But, as with Mr. Carroll, Mr. Rands had the intelligence*** to make nonsense mean something.

His biography makes for interesting reading—there’s an online version here that sleep deprivation and time constraints forbid me from confirming, sorry—but he seems to have been an accomplished autodidact and a high-functioning eccentric. He also had children, which I’d already guessed:

Not all of Mr. Rands’ poems were silly—his literary works appear to have been as eclectic as his assortment of day jobs. While most of the verses I found were heavily into Polly, pies, and porcupines, he wrote darker poems, too—some of them winding further and further into the illuminated dark until I wondered if I should have been dropping breadcrumbs along the way.

The Thought
(William Brighty Rands)

Into the skies, one summer’s day,
I sent a little Thought away;
Up to where, in the blue round,
The sun sat shining without sound.

Then my Thought came back to me—
Little Thought, what did you see
In the regions whence you come?
And when I spoke, my Thought was dumb.

But she breathed of what was there,
In the pure bright upper air;
And, because my Thought so shone,
I knew she had been shone upon.

Next, by night a Thought I sent
Up into the firmament;
When the eager stars were out,
And the still moon shone about.

And my Thought went past the moon
In between the stars, but soon
Held her breath and durst not stir,
For the fear that covered her;
Then she thought, in this demur:

‘Dare I look beneath the shade,
Into where the worlds are made;
Where the suns and stars are wrought?
Shall I meet another Thought?

‘Will that other Thought have wings?
Shall I meet strange, heavenly things?
Thought of Thoughts, and Light of Lights,
Breath of Breaths, and Night of Nights?’

Then my Thought began to hark
In the illuminated dark,
Till the silence, over, under,
Made her heart beat more than thunder.

And my Thought, came trembling back,
But with something on her track,
And with something at her side;
Nor till she has lived and died,
Lived and died, and lived again,
Will that awful thing seem plain.

Mr. Rands was called the ‘laureate of the nursery.’ but I suspect the ‘Poe of the Poppets’ might have fit just as well.

Perhaps the carnivorous buttercups should have been a clue?
* I pulled the 4am Panda shift this morning and didn’t go back to bed because Jane couldn’t and I grossly underestimated how difficult it would be to get up one hour earlier than usual. By six, I was holding on to consciousness by my fingernails while Jane flipped through a book and peppered me with deep philosophical questions that I simply couldn’t comprehend like, “Mom? Do you like dogs?” So I deeply apologize for any comments I might have made on everyone’s blogs this morning, and also for this post.

**At least under his vast assortment of pseudonyms.

**As in, six languages, counting Latin, Greek, and Chinese and the authorship of a two-volume work on Chaucer—and we all know how I feel about Chaucer. He also wrote most of his stuff between sessions of Parliament, where he worked as a reporter of the House of Commons. Dude.