Tag Archives: nonsense poetry

Review: “Nonsense” by Alan Watts

Alan Watts had a rich intellectual life. His formal education largely stopped at high school in his native England, but he explored his interests in mystical Christianity and Zen Buddhism so thoroughly, including attending an American seminary, getting a Masters and becoming a priest for a few years, that he was associated thereafter with various universities including Harvard and San Jose State University.

His poetry book “Nonsense” is interesting for its fresh perspective over Watts’ writing, and enjoyable enough for the ten nonsense poems it holds. As you would expect from the author of “The Art of Zen” and “The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are”, it contains both pointless happiness

Hum, hum the Humbledrum!
Rumbling bumbling dumbledrum,
Mumbling dumbly, rumbling humbly…

and comparatively clear philosophy:

The stars in their courses have no destination;
The train of events will arrive at no station;
The inmost and ultimate Self of us all
Is dancing on nothing and having a ball.
So with chat for chit and with tat for tit,
This will be that, and that will be It!

The main poem falls somewhere between the two previous quotes. One hundred lines long, written as 20 limericks, it tells the story of The Lovelorn Loon:

A certain umstumptulat loon
Fell vastly in love with the moon;
With shimular turve
And binlimular gurve
He caroozed to the gorble bassoon.

The Loon builds an enormous tower that successfully reaches the heavens, but when he calls the moon, her arrival destroys the tower.

The whole book is appropriately illustrated in 1960s psychedelic style (think Yellow Submarine and Monty Python) by Michel Dattel. And the book contains other short pieces by Watts, an Introduction that starts reasonably and slyly slides into gibberish; and short prose pieces on Nonsense, on Goofing, and on Drudgery.

A very odd but entertaining little book.