The other day I pulled one of our breakfast standbys, Favorite Poems Old and New, off the shelf. As they do every single time I so much as glance in that book’s direction, the girls immediately began begging me to read “the funny poem.” They were referring to Thomas Hood’s undeniably amusing poem, “A Parental Ode to My Son, Aged Three Years and Five Months,” which has been a family favorite ever since (who else?) Alice pointed me toward it when Jane was a four-year-old.
I think I recall Liz posting this same poem on Poetry Friday last year, but we had such a funny time with it this week that I can’t resist sharing it again. Because, you see, though we have read this poem together at least a hundred times, this was our first time enjoying in the company of an actual boy aged three years and five months.
Jane’s the one who realized the coincidence. When I read the title, she gasped and shouted, “Hold on,” then did some rapid mental calculating. “YES!” she hollered. “That’s exactly how old Wonderboy will be NEXT WEEK!”
“Read it, read it!” the others chanted. Mind you, a proper recitation of this poem requires some effort. You need to intone the odd lines, which are the flowery ode the poet is writing about his son, in stentorian tones for maximum contrast to the even lines, which are the poet-father’s exasperated remarks to his wife and son as the boy interrupts Dad’s efforts to pen some fine phrases. The poem’s humor lies in the complete disconnect between the way the father describes his child and the way he actually feels.
Any mother who has ever tried to write a blog post about her beloved children while simulateously fielding interruptions from those children can certainly relate. Ahem.
I have often used this poem as a discussion-starter in writing workshops and conference talks. Its use of overblown imagery in the “ode” lines provides a good introduction to the use (and mis-use) of figurative language in poetry, not to mention authenticity. The father-poet contradicts his own metaphors line after line.
I remember Rose and Beanie guffawing along with Jane years before they were old enough to understand any of the jokes. But none of the howling renditions we’ve shared over the years compared to yesterday’s, with Wonderboy, who really does have the funniest Popeye squint sometimes, leaning against my rocking chair and grinning his new gap-toothed grin at his sisters’ uproarious laughter.
Anyway, here it is, for your enjoyment:
A PARENTAL ODE TO MY SON,
AGED THREE YEARS AND FIVE MONTHS
by Thomas Hood,
who was obviously a real dad
Thou happy, happy elf!
(But stop,—first let me kiss away that tear)—
Thou tiny image of myself!
(My love, he’s poking peas into his ear!)
Thou merry, laughing sprite!
With spirits feather-light,
Untouch’d by sorrow, and unsoil’d by sin—
(Good heav’ns! the child is swallowing a pin!)
Thou little tricksy Puck!
With antic toys so funnily bestuck,
Light as the singing bird that wings the air—
(The door! the door! he’ll tumble down the stair!)
Thou darling of thy sire!
(Why, Jane, he’ll set his pinafore a-fire!)
Thou imp of mirth and joy!
In Love’s dear chain so strong and bright a link,
Thou idol of thy parents—(Drat the boy!
There goes my ink!)
Thou cherub—but of earth;
Fit playfellow for Fays, by moonlight pale,
In harmless sport and mirth,
(That dog will bite him if he pulls its tail!)
Thou human humming-bee, extracting honey
From ev’ry blossom in the world that blows,
Singing in Youth’s Elysium ever sunny,
(Another tumble!—that’s his precious nose!)
Thy father’s pride and hope!
(He’ll break the mirror with that skipping-rope!)
With pure heart newly stamp’d from Nature’s mint—
(Where did he learn that squint?)
Thou young domestic dove!
(He’ll have that jug off, with another shove!)
Dear nurseling of the hymeneal nest!
(Are those torn clothes his best?)
Little epitome of man!
(He’ll climb upon the table, that’s his plan!)
Touch’d with the beauteous tints of dawning life—
(He’s got a knife!)
Thou enviable being!
No storms, no clouds, in thy blue sky foreseeing,
Play on, play on,
My elfin John!
Toss the light ball—bestride the stick—
(I knew so many cakes would make him sick!)
With fancies, buoyant as the thistle-down,
Prompting the face grotesque, and antic brisk,
With many a lamb-like frisk,
(He’s got the scissors, snipping at your gown!)
Thou pretty opening rose!
(Go to your mother, child, and wipe your nose!)
Balmy and breathing music like the South,
(He really brings my heart into my mouth!)
Fresh as the morn, and brilliant as its star,—
(I wish that window had an iron bar!)
Bold as the hawk, yet gentle as the dove,—
(I’ll tell you what, my love,
I cannot write, unless he’s sent above!)
This week’s Poetry Friday roundup can be found at A Wrung Sponge.
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The Poem Farm: A Resource for Writers