Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, July 2, 2006

Imagination loves borderlands: the uncertain terrain between myth and report, the dark trails where Sasquatch roams, the misty surface of Loch Ness. In the best tall tales and fables, the familiar adjoins the amazing, reaching the giant by way of a beanstalk. There's a similar appeal in using humble detail to fill in an abstract formula. Country life may be remote for most of today's children, but they can still enjoy the way specific, barnyard realities fill in a pattern:

This is the farmer sowing the corn,

That kept the cock that crowed in the morn,

That waked the priest all shaven and shorn,

That married the man all tattered and torn,

That kissed the maiden all forlorn,

That milked the cow with the crumpled horn,

That tossed the dog,

That worried the cat,

That killed the rat,

That ate the malt

That lay in the house that Jack built.

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