Friday, June 12, 2009

Another Boynton Forgery!
Editorial Hypercorrection in the "Cavort" Recension of But Not the Hippopotamus

Earlier this year I announced the blockbuster news that Hippos Go Berserk by Sandra Boynton was likely a forgery by a later author who was attempting to imitate Boynton the Great. I can now show that the forger of Hippos Go Berserk, or Pseudo-Boynton, was at work elsewhere as well.

I recently purchased a copy of But Not the Hippopotamus at the Blue Bunny bookstore in Dedham, Mass. In this copy I found the following opening lines:

A Hog and Frog
cavort in a bog.
But not the Hippopotamus.

Something did not seem right, so I consulted my personal copy of But Not the Hippopotamus. Sure enough, the opening lines are:

A Hog and a Frog
do a dance in a bog.
But not the Hippopotamus.

This variation, "cavort" for "do a dance" is an editorial hyper-correction, probably based on an attempt to force Boynton the Great's artistically flawless meter into a straightjacket of perfect regularity.

Note that in the original version, "do a dance" is a straightforward anapest. I scan the lines as:

a HOG and a FROG (iamb plus anapest)
do a DANCE in a BOG (two anapests)

Pseudo-Boynton forces both lines to be iambs followed by anapests, but examination of the rest of the poem shows that Boynton only once uses the 2 / 3 pattern in the line:

a HARE and a BEAR (iamb anapest)
have BEEN to a FAIR (iamb anapest)

In the other two stanzas we see:

are TRYing on HATS


toGETHer have JUICE

These two parallels, "are TRYing" and "toGETHer" are amphibrachs, also three-syllable feet. So there is no need to assume that the iamb in the fourth stanza needs to be followed slavishly by forcing a two-syllable foot ("cavort") into the first stanza.

From this analysis of the forgery, we can conclude that Pseudo-Boynton is a highly trained scholar, but one for whom Boynton's brilliant verse is not a native idiom. We can also note that as well as lacking Boynton the Great's attention to detail (in that Pseudo-Boynton forgets to deal with the six distressed hippos who have never left in his/her version of Hippos Go Berserk), Pseudo-Boynton has a predilection for hippos. Scholars should thus re-examine the Boynton corpus to determine which other texts may have been interfered with by Pseudo-Boynton, looking for editorial hypercorrection, subtle contradictions, and hippos.

And the "Cavort" Recension of But Not the Hippopotamus must be athetized from the corpus.


Michelle said...

There was a time when I could recite the entirety of "But Not the Hippopotamus" from memory. Alas - kindergarten - but I did read "A Big Ball of String" last night :)

Unknown said...

I listened to A Way With Words IV: Understanding Poetry so, gasp, I actually understood this post. Thanks, Professor.

Unknown said...

Ah, professor...You actually bought a Boynton original and not a forgery. My 24-year-old nephew had this version as a child, and it was the first Boynton book I had the pleasure of reading. I'm afraid that, despite its metrical superiority, the latter is a dumbed-down version for all those who thought that "cavort" was not worthy of teaching to preschoolers. Cheers!