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Do you remember any of the nursery rhymes you heard when you were little? I know I do, and recently I have been looking again at some of them and discovering a few reasons why they stay so long in my memory. Partly, I expect, it is because our minds, as children, are so receptive, and like sponges, absorb ideas and impressions so well. But the rhymes themselves when looked at again in later years, have a lot to offer, such as:
+ Vivid imagery and imagination
+ Rhymes to aid memory
+ Memorable characters
+ Story telling
All these elements combine, in some nursery rhymes to produce very interesting poetry. The words may be simple, but the overall effect can give pleasure, touch the emotions, or even in some rhymes produce an atmosphere of tension or threat. Here I am thinking in particular of two which affected me deeply as a child and which I still find quite disturbing. 'Oranges and Lemons' in its final lines about the candle to light you to bed, and the chopper to chop off your head refers to the unhappy fate of felons in London's gaols many years ago. The other rhyme , 'A man of words and not of deeds' builds to a rather gruesome climax, but somehow it is one of my favourites.
There are rhymes which are progressive, adding one layer on another. In 'The House that Jack Built' it is necessary to remember the preceding lines as one progresses through the verses. This rhyme has a particularly interesting rhythm and cast of characters.
There are rhymes too built around specific characters, 'Little Miss Muffet', 'Little Boy Blue', 'Jack Sprat' and 'Little Jack Horner', where the giving of names fixes the verse more firmly in the mind.
For a compact, economical rhyme it is hard to beat 'Solomon Grundy', whose entire lifetime is summed up in a few lines. This is in contrast to 'There was a Crooked Man' where the effect of the rhyme depends on the constant repetition of the word 'crooked'.
I feel that nursery rhymes have an important part to play in opening and preparing young minds to appreciate more complicated poetry as adults. Quite apart from this virtue, they give a great deal of pleasure. Certainly, I found revisiting them a lot of fun.
I hope that they will continue to flourish and that they will never go out of fashion.
Copyright (c) Mizzmouse. All rights reserved.
Advocate of friendly persuasion and ethical marketing. Amateur poet - winner of Swift International Satire Poetry Prize 2006.
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