Tuesday, April 24, 2012

National Poetry Month—Dr. Seuss "Oh, the Places You’ll Go!"—an excerpt

Note:  This was adapted from a post first put up on March 2, 2010.

On March 2, 1904 Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield, Massachusetts.  As a college student at Dartmouth, he was suspended from extracurricular activities for drinking alcohol but continued to contribute to the campus humor magazine under his mother’s maiden name Seuss.  After he graduated he started using Dr. Seuss as a pen name for a humor column in the popular magazine Judge because he intended to continue his education and become a PhD in literature. 

Marriage ended those plans, but he was already launched on a successful writing career.  In addition to Judge, his work began to appear in Vanity Fair, Life, Liberty, and the top selling magazine of all, The Saturday Evening Post, often accompanied by his own whimsical illustrations. 

He was also an in demand advertising man whose celebrated Flit insecticide magazine ads became a cultural phenomena.   His art work was used by NBC, Standard Oil and other major companies. 

In 1937 he published his first children’s book And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street

 But his attention was soon drawn to the rise of European Fascism. He became a regular contributor of fiercely anti-Nazi political cartoons to the left wing New York daily newspaper PM and other publications, including, occasionally, the Industrial Worker.  When the war began he contributed posters to the Treasury Department’s war bond drives and the War Production Board.  

In 1943 he enlisted was made commander of the animation department of the Army Air Corps First Motion Picture Unit.  He made a number of humorous training films in the Private Snafu series and highly regarded propaganda films.  

After the war he and his wife settled in California and he turned to writing and illustrating children’s books full time.  He produced a chain of award winning books from If I Ran the Zoo to How the Grinch Stole Christmas using the trisyllabic meter for his verse that would become his signature

 In response to criticism that the bland Dick and Jane readers were boring children to death and driving them away from reading his publisher urged him to write an entertaining book in basic vocabulary.  The result was The Cat in the Hat which used just 220 different words and went on to become the biggest selling book in Random House history.  More Beginner Books followed.  

He gently introduced progressive themes into his books for children including authoritarianism in Yertle the Turtle, racial equality in The Sneeches, environmentalism in The Lorax, and militarism in Butter Battle Book.  In 1974 he parodied his own style in a short piece called Richard Nixon Will You Please Go Now which was reprinted nationally in Art Buchwald’s popular column.  

As he neared the end of his life, he wrote an adult book in his style for children You’re Only Old Once chronicling  an old man’s misadventures in the health care system.  Ted Gissel died after a long illness in San Diego in 1995.  Dr. Seuss is immortal.

Note:  The Seuss estate tightly controls all of his work and does not allow complete poems to be reprinted without hard to get permission well in advance.  However fair use allows the use of excerpts in reviews and articles.  With that in mind, I offer an excerpt from Oh, The Places You’ll Go © 1990 by Theodor S. Geisel and Audrey S. Geisel.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go

“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And
you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”
“You’ll get mixed up,
of course, as you
already know.
You’ll get mixed up
with many strange birds
as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great
tact and remember that...
 ...Life’s A Great
Balancing Act.
“And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)

—Dr. Seuss


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