Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Man in the Wilderness / Adventures of Isabel

The Man in the Wilderness (from the album Leave Your Sleep; Anonymous)

The man in the wilderness asked of me,
"How many strawberries grow in the salt sea?"
I answered him, as I thought good,
As many a ship as sails in the wood.

The man in the wilderness asked me why
His hen could swim and his pig could fly.
I answered him as I thought best,
"They were both born in a cuckoo's nest."

The man in the wilderness asked me to tell
All the sands in the sea and I counted them well.
He said he with a grin, "And not one more?"
I answered him, "Now you go make sure."


Adventures of Isabel (from the album Leave Your Sleep; words by Ogden Nash)

Isabel met an enormous bear,
Isabel, Isabel, didn't care;
The bear was hungry, the bear was ravenous,
The bear's big mouth was cruel and cavernous.
The bear said, Isabel, glad to meet you,
How do, Isabel, now I'll eat you!
Isabel, Isabel, didn't worry,
Isabel didn't scream or scurry.
She washed her hands and she straightened her hair up,
Then Isabel quietly ate the bear up.

Once in a night as black as pitch
Isabel met a wicked old witch.
The witch's face was cross and wrinkled,
The witch's gums with teeth were sprinkled.
Ho, ho, Isabel! the old witch crowed,
I'll turn you into an ugly toad!
Isabel, Isabel, didn't worry,
Isabel didn't scream or scurry,
She showed no rage and she showed no rancor,
But she turned the witch into milk and drank her.

Isabel met a hideous giant,
Isabel continued self-reliant.
The giant was hairy, the giant was horrid,
He had one eye in the middle of his forehead.
Good morning Isabel, the giant said,
I’ll grind your bones to make my bread.
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t worry,
Isabel didn’t scream or scurry.
She nibbled the zwieback that she always fed off,
And when it was gone, she cut the giant’s head off.

Isabel met a troublesome doctor,
He punched and he poked till he really shocked her.
The doctor’s talk was of coughs and chills
And the doctor’s satchel bulged with pills.
The doctor said unto Isabel,
Swallow this, it will make you well.
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t worry,
Isabel didn’t scream or scurry.
She took those pills from the pill concocter,
And Isabel calmly cured the doctor.

I had an interesting exchange with a four-year-old recently. I told her, "You are cute. I like you. I like cute people." She looked back at me, unsmiling, and said flatly, "You like Satan."

We sat in silence for a few moments. "Well," I started calmly. "No...No, I don't like Satan. For one thing, I don't find him cute."

She nodded slowly and seemed to accept my reply and that was the end of that.

Of course, I spent all day telling people about this conversation and we all had a good laugh. I have no idea what prompted this child to accuse me of Satanic affection, but that's the fun of children, isn't it? They just say stuff. Really random stuff. It doesn't really mean anything, right?


Okay, I'll admit it. For a split second, I couldn't help but wonder, "Is this kid on to something? Does she see a touch of evil in me?" You know, if an adult came up to me and said the same thing, I'd roll my eyes and dismiss their sanity. But there is just something about the confidence of a child. They can at times speak with such assuredness and honesty that their words, at least for me, can carry more weight than an adult's.

I suppose when a poem is called "The Man in the Wilderness", our primary focus is supposed to be on the title character. But the person that intrigues me most in this poem is the one responding to the strange man's riddles. I always imagine this person as a child, perhaps simply because I know it's a Mother Goose rhyme. To me, this poem and song is not so much about the creepy eccentricity of the wilderness man as it is about the kid who consistently bests him. His answers are sometimes sarcastic, sometimes challenging, and always with a detached apathy about any stakes of this little game. I love this part most:

The man in the wilderness asked me why
His hen could swim and his pig could fly.
I answered him as I thought best,
"They were both born in a cuckoo's nest."

There's a certain audaciousness to that response that I find really charming. I can imagine this kid crouched on the ground, concerning himself with playing with sticks and stones and leaves and all but ignoring the questioner completely, except to give the occasional offhanded reply. If this was a contest the Man in the Wilderness was starting, he got thoroughly beat.

It's not until I've started to write this post that I've come to see another of the many thematic threads of Leave Your Sleep - supremely confident children, like the little Equestrienne and the girl who is madly in love with the Janitor's Boy. But none of the characters of Leave Your Sleep are anywhere near as confident as Isabel. I love Adventures of Isabel. If not my favorite song on Leave Your Sleep, it is certainly near the top of the list.

It's not just that Isabel is such a lovable character, the kind of kid I would want to have as my own, that makes this song seem almost profound to me. It's that Adventures of Isabel was written by a father for his daughter, in this case poet Ogden Nash for his daughter Isabel. I wonder about the real Isabel. Was her confidence what inspired the poem? Or was the poem an effort to inspire confidence in her? I guess I imagine the real Isabel being somewhat timid. Maybe this poem helped her see a vision of herself that was entirely different from the one she was used to. One way or another, the poem is clear evidence of her father's love. Indeed, in the Leave Your Sleep liner notes about Ogden Nash, Natalie sums it up quite simply:

"He was a particularly devoted and enthusiastic father who took immense pleasure in spending time with his daughters."

I wish that statement seemed ordinary to me, but it doesn't. It seems special.

One of my favorite hole-in-the-wall bookstore finds of all-time was a $5 copy of the book Versus by Ogden Nash. It had a tattered dust jacket with a tiny note inside, "Jacket design by Maurice Sendak." Cool.

To close today's post, I want to share with you my favorite poem from that book, Soliloquy in Circles:

Being a father
Is quite a bother.

You are free as air
With time to spare,

You're a fiscal rocket
With change in your pocket,

And then one morn
A child is born.

Your life has been runcible

Like an arrow or javelin
You've been constantly travelin',

But mostly, I daresay,
Without a chaise percee,

To which by comparison
Nothing's embarison.

But all children matures,
Maybe even yours.

You improve them mentally
And straighten them dentally,

They grow tall as a lancer
And ask questions you can't answer,

And supply you with data
About how everybody else wears lipstick sooner and stays up later,

And if they are popular,
The phone they monopular.

They scorn the dominion
Of their parent's opinion,

They're no longer corralable
Once they find that you're fallible

But after you've raised them and educated them and gowned them,
They just take their little fingers and wrap you around them.

Being a father
Is quite a bother,
But I like it, rather.


That's all for me this week. You've probably noticed this blog has been a bit of a ghost town lately. I'll spare you the details of my excuses and instead simply say I'm sorry. Hopefully I'm back on track now. Thanks for reading. As always, you can reach me at or through the comments section below.

Look! I embed things now! Oh, I'm a 21st century gal.

Download The Man in the Wilderness from Itunes - The Man In the Wilderness - Leave Your Sleep

Download Adventures of Isabel from Itunes - Adventures of Isabel - Leave Your Sleep


  1. I think I read or heard somewhere that "The Man in the Wilderness" was frightening to Natalie when she was a child.

    I'm glad the "ghost town" is reinhabited. I like reading your stories.

    1. Chasm -

      Yeah, I read that too. I can see why it would have scared her. More than a bit creepy.

      Thank you for your kind words; I'm really glad you enjoy the blog. I'll try to do a better job of keeping it updated!

  2. Really enjoyed gazing thru your blog Annie, tis just about the perfect composite on artistic integrity since at no time (it seems) do you lose yourself entirely to the artist herself hence this in turn contains about the right amount of (self) reflect* to create cause for opening a greater debate with the reader themselves; i.e. myself ~ as domino effect pondered me own turbid tale from of youth, Jack and the f'ing beanstalk, aged 5 & the reading of which ran hand in hand with me wrecking some neighbours slates (they were stacked neatly outside his gaff) and me having to take the field route home from school forever more! Well not so long for sure, until I messed up and forgot about or disregarded more like the detour (think i managed no more than a week dodging the man .. but then he tells me they weren't his to begin, & he was sound about it as well. Odd odd).

    Do you truly believe others hog our ability to express ourselves creatively in a certain genre|form, chewing up all that magical (& non academical) haze that minds be floating about? I was with ya on it momentarily but then I thinks, well she writes pretty well in prose form, so maybe that just be your particular mode of transport, your piece of the fiery bedew left over from the mornings galloping skiddoo (in lieu of an artistic slew we make do ;).

    * Yours in fact is more than a tad bit dosed in self-reflect ~ but that's why i liked it so much since that to me is the very magic to which you speak .. delving deeper beneath, diving into ourselves, learning from the process & ultimately (if feasible a'tall) passing on whatever it is we may have acquired to our fellow wo|man. If you ask me, just sparking a thought in the current societal mind is an accomplishment in and of itself, seems at least 50% took the route of ~ think i'll just sit back and see what comes floating down the river, floating down the river, wat comes floating .{{s}}. down ! whoa ! .{{S}}. the .{{`}}. river ~ and then they'll grab up as much of the .{{s}}. or whatever it is they see as is humanly possible, never caring too much about content thus in turn never truly knowing what it was they irresponsibly hogged to begin. In the case of da latter twas a fresh head of .{{Scheiße}}. that they got so should keep them going for sometime (yep Scheiße, or as us Irish might pronounce it, Shite. That's all they got from me ;).

    Alright keep it up & all the best Anne,


    1. Hello RebelEire -

      Wow. You should start a blog of your own filled with Irish raps. You got some talent yourself!

      Thanks for your kind words. I have to say, I really appreciated in particular that you mentioned you like that I generally keep the focus on the music rather than on the artist herself. It's not always easy to do that, but I really try because I think it makes for better reading and keeps me from sounding too much like a psychophant. Glad you noticed. : )

      Seriously, though...start that blog!

    2. haha. Ah think I'm alright with the blogging. But yea, makes more sense, we already obsessed with enough that others have :)

  3. Hey not meaning I was talking shite in regards to your thoughts, that was all virtue (imbue in true) .. Generally speaking is all. But since they're pretty much inept, well certainly running on empty when it comes to tracing matters which stem from [as of] inner resolve, and w/a blatant unwillingness to delve beneath our obvious margins >)<~ must have preset em satellite antennae on an inability for ALL lest tis be grapple, cheat n stall .{. fraternizing their rules thus in same [dagame] themselves into a vaporized framework wherein they're certain to aim tall Yall, reign Best behest ~~ then hover above the rest ~>(< [deTest!], well then sure not many of us have much to worry about. They'll just screw it up & skew it all about (inOneLARGEcapitalClout)! Well anything that involves even da bare ounce of integrity at least, must be their mark of daBeast (soaYesaYtodaYeh). Ok. later (on some distant equator says you ;).

  4. Not directed at the artist nor creative|binding elements either. Fortress behind it all is what i meant, them ivory towers just slightly bent that keeps calling out (in echos North East West n South, in-sucking all that's about). MeOut :).

  5. Then a'din if the artist's objective creed is yet again but another cog in that same round robin hobnobbing blobobbin capitalist wheel, well quell soYo, ain't much that separates us from em ~ them from hem nor uz from cuz kinda thing really sincerely is there. Alright I'm gone now for real though could look at it from many angles and ain't it great to have that might (our insight) :)/. (~.didn't mean to clog yer blog, seems i one of dasame (aShame, seemed tame ;).. Pretty sure daMerchant wouldn't mind some string politik in her own vain soo ya know ~ just saying (not laying nah eggs). Slan.