Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Beautiful Art of Doggerel

Doggerel is an old and underestimated art form. According to the official definition, a doggerel is “a light verse which is humorous and comic by nature”. It is however often viewed with disdain as containing "little literary value".

In "Eating Your Aunty is Wrong", Stephen Arnott writes: "Groups of young men in Sussex and Devon used to go "apple howling", visiting local orchards and spouting *doggerel* to encourage the trees to be fruitful. In return the men expected drink or money from the orchard's owner. If they didn't get it they'd return to the orchard and shout curses at the trees."

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, one of the earliest uses of the word "doggerel" is found in the 14th century in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. He applied the term “rym doggerel” to his “Tale of Sir Thopas,” a burlesque of the long-winded medieval romance.

John Skelton, caught in the transition between Chaucer’s medieval language and the beginning of the English Renaissance, wrote verse long considered being almost doggerel. He defended himself in Colin Clout:

For though my rhyme be ragged,

Tattered and jagged,

Rudely rain-beaten,

Rusty and moth-eaten,

If ye take well therewith,

It hath in it some pith.

Since then, doggerel has been employed in most English comic verse, from that of Victorian poet Samuel Butler and Gulliver's Travels author Jonathan Swift to the contemporary American poet Ogden Nash.

The doggerel even has a German counterpart, called Knüttelvers (literally “cudgel verse”). It was popular during the Renaissance and was later used for comic effect by such poets as J.W. von Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller.

Doggerel verse is still commonly heard in limericks and nonsense verse, popular songs, and commercial jingles.

All in all, the doggerel is a fun form of poetry and not so easy to write. So I invite all writers and poets, try your hand at the beautiful art of writing a doggerel!

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