Dr. Seuss became a legend because he had
1. the courage to make up new words,
2. the confidence that his readers would understand what these non-words meant, and
3. Seuss was a master of meter, the rhythm that is created when you arrange into patterns the stressed and unstressed syllables of words.
There are lots of types of meter, but Dr. Seuss used only one of them, anapestic meter, sometimes called galloping meter because it tumbles off the tongue.
Don’t confuse meter with rhyming. Meter does not have to rhyme to work it’s magic.
The magic of being musical.
“Meter makes words musical?”
Yes, meter makes words musical.
“Even when read silently?”
Yes, even when read silently.
“So what’s the benefit of it?”
When words become musical, they enter into the non-judgmental, pattern-recognition half of your mind.
The right hemisphere of the brain doesn’t know fact from fiction; that’s the left brain’s job. Pierre de Beaumarchais understood this in 1775.
“How do you know?”
That’s when he wrote in The Barber of Seville, “Anything too stupid to be spoken is sung.”
“I kind of think you’re making all this up.”
Dr. Roger Sperry documented it in 1981 and they awarded him the Nobel Prize for it.
“Oh… so maybe I should just shut up and listen, huh?”
Might be a good idea.
Bounty, the quicker-picker-upper.
BMW. The ultimate driving machine.
My client would not, could not, did not commit these crimes. If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.
“Are those examples of anapestic meter?”
No, anapestic meter is two light stresses followed by a heavy third stress, like this:
‘Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
Oh, the sea is so full of a number of fish,
if a fellow is patient, he might get his wish…
and that’s why I think that I’m not such a fool
when I sit here and fish in McElligot’s Pool.
“But both of those rhyme! Can you give me an example that doesn’t rhyme?”
Sixty-nine years ago, from January 29 to November 1, 1951, John Steinbeck woke up each day and scribbled notes to his best friend on the left-hand pages of a notebook. The right-hand pages were for the manuscript of his novel, East of Eden.
On February 13, 1951, these words appeared on the left-hand page:
“I suffer as always from the fear of putting down the first line. It is amazing the terrors, the magics, the prayers, the straightening shyness that assails one. It is as though the words were not only indelible but that they spread out like dye in water and color everything around them. A strange and mystic business, writing. … And one thing we have lost – the courage to make new words or combinations. Somewhere that old bravado has slipped off into a gangrened scholarship. Oh! you can make words if you enclose them in quotation marks. This indicates that it is dialect and cute.” – John Steinbeck, Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters
Today you and I will honor John Steinbeck by finding the courage to make new words and new combinations.
By the way, I said “you and I” because I have a homework assignment for you if you’re willing to do it.