A Study of the Metrical Unit of A Classic Nursery Rhyme:
First thing to say is that I mean nothing pretentious by doing this. I saw a spider in my bathroom, and for some reason I looked up the nursery rhyme from a random access memory of my Mom playing itsy-bitsy Spider with me.
I had this posted without giving a good reason… I then proceeded to lose a subscriber. So, I think some reason has to be given, which I meditated on all day after having written this piece.
My friend J.D. entertained a thought, one worth noting, how our modern children are without a strong, cultural foundation. Things like Little Red Riding Hood, Sleepy Hollow and of course The Itsy Bitsy Spider.
People tend to entertain America as a cultureless cesspool. Unfortunately, they might be right. But there is a strong culture rooted in mythologies, such as John Bunyan or Johnny Appleseed. Both of which I was steeped in in Nursery School. Of course Honest Abraham Lincoln who couldn’t tell a lie, and George Washington who chopped down the cherry tree—the only sin he’d ever committed. These are called Tall Tales. A part of American culture. So is the “Itsy-Bitsy Spider”. So is John Henry.
Modern kids have lost track of this. They are steeped in traditions such as “Sponge Bob Squarepants” or as of late South Park. They mistake Beyonce and Lil Wayne as cultural icons. I think somewhere in the Sixties we did this, when we mistook our Classic Rock as classically iconic. Not that there is anything inherently without merit in bands like the Eagles, or the Beetles. It’s just, something intelligent has been lost. Something in the Mythologies presented to kids. They’ve mistaken Sponge Bob as ancient. They’ve mistaken him with Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse.
When I grew up in the Nineties, Rugrats and Animaniacs were programs I watched. But, I had a historicity taught to me dating long before it, so I always knew its place. It was never ancient, time honored nor porous. It was always in its place—and well received by my childhood. I knew about Bugs Bunny and Popeye, I knew about Mickey Mouse and the Flinstones. These were ancient and time honored in my childhood, some thirty to forty year old traditions at the time I was a kid.
Then there were much older things I had learned, giving me a complete history. Itsy-Bitsy Spider was the Sponge-Bob square pants of the seventeen and eighteen hundreds. It was the programming we consumed. Along with mythologies surrounding George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. There was a tangibility to the culture that existed, rooting me in a long history of stories which were passed down from generation to generation, and Popey and Loony Tunes were just parts of that tradition.
Spongebob, modern episodes of it anyway, do not seem to be rooted or steeped in these traditions. They might make a mention of a famous piece of art, but the art of storytelling is fracturing and falling apart.
In the notes below, I mention the “Heroic Verse” of Itsy-Bitsy Little Spider. Because it was ultimately a heroic poem—and today I imagined the Itsy-Bitsy little spider making his way up the spout, in heroic fashion. He is being knocked down, but getting back up again. This is the content of our past. The premise of our economics. More importantly, there are thousands of traditions children learned of work ethic and heroism. Almost strangely enough, a lot of those traditions were not even on the political landscape of modern day.
John Henry was a hard worker, for instance, but he died against a Machine. The poem is both capitalistic and communistic at the same front. It honors John Henry’s work ethic, and his desire to work hard, and treat his family. It then scorns the engine of Capitalism which would throw him out of work. This is the American tradition, steeped throughout it. Casey Jones, Paul Bunyan. Johnny Appleseed is a story about environmentalism and capitalism. The man, Johnny Appleseed, by ingenuity challenges the bad laws by planting apple trees, and then proceeds to economize them; but, on the flip, his trees feed the local poor. There is something economical that transcends left and right.
Further, these traditions fight against the modern notions, on both left and right hemispheres of the political coin. They don’t fit on our modern ethos. Which is why they are being forgotten. The spider in the poem—eloquently, and in perfect Iambic Pentameter—gets knocked down, and then proceeds to climb back up the waterspout. Because that is the American spirit which neither Communism nor Capitalism can claim.
I want it to be clear that I’m not pretentiously posting “Itsy-Bitsy Little Spider” as some manikin pissing in a museum; some claim to artistic ingenuity or even mocking it. I’m simply pointing out how much better formed it is as a story and a poem, and how much better it works as a moral. I didn’t write this poem. My mom was the one who came up with this particular rendition of it, as it was sung over me a thousand and one times in my childhood. The game involved touch, as she’d do the motions on my back, and then tickle me.
There were so many stories I was steeped in as a child. And these stories were critical in developing my moral compass—I know right from wrong partly because of the stories ingrained in me. More than that, they were far better formed than modern day stories. This story, in its four lines is far more coherent than a modern Sponge Bob episode. It makes more plot sense. I was watching Sponge Bob with my brother the other day, and realized that they were filling four episodes worth of content into one fifteen minute time slot, and kids were probably watching this. Lots of them. It’s concerning to me because it seems almost disingenuous to call it good programming when I used to watch shows like Rugrats or Hey Arnold. And, having read Doctor Sues I understand what the children can do with these random stories; children at certain ages will imprint on the stories far more creatively than an adult does, and we as adults cannot understand it. So, we don’t know what damage we’re doing to the kids by letting them consume poorly construed art. There is a link between art and mental health—a profound link, that often gets shrugged at by professionals wanting to maintain a system that feigns capitalistic.
We need to be cautious in this field of creating art, and this nursery rhyme is far superior to the modern traditions being taught to children, which will be dissected below. In four lines there is already more literariness than in a full season of Sponge Bob. Literariness is not allusions, it is like a gear or cog that brings a story to coherence and brings together what the Theorists call “Internal Tautology.” That is internal logic.
The below is the Nursery Rhyme “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”:
This is how my Mom sung it to me:
The itsy-bitsy spider climbed up the water spout;—
Down came the rain and washed that spider out.
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain.
The itsy-bitsy spider, climbed up the spout again.
First thing to notice about the poem is its iambs, the unstressed going into the stressed syllables (uSuSuS). It almost perfectly follows its meter, using the whole word “Climbed” working as one long syllable. Second thing to notice is the heroic verse in Iambic Pentameter, and the “AA/BB” rhyme scheme, where “again” is spoken like “rain” with a slight different vowel syllable than the typical vowel used in conversation. It sounds more like “Ageyne” than “Agen”. The third thing to notice is the thirteen syllable lines on the edges of the poem mirroring, and the perfect iambic pentameter in the middle. It creates a sort of Chiasmic Metrical Couplet, making melodic sense. One is tricked into believing the pattern is the same, but close study shows the extra three syllables on the first and fourth verse gives musical emphasis on those lines. There is also an immediate repetition of the word “Out” which makes the poem less encumbered.
Why did I just do this? Why did you just spend six minutes reading it?
It’s hard to explain, but I would implore any reader to read Go Dog Go. There will be a confused look on your face with the absurdity of reading it. There seems to be no coherent story. Because there isn’t. And it’s beneficial to the child to read Go Dog Go. But, Spongebob is using this same psychological trick, to unknown levels, and what seemingly is random to an adult is shaping a child in ways we cannot understand because we are not children. Because children are stimulated by what’s on the television. It is a part of their upbringing, as much as the parent or the school.
We don’t know the damage done by Sponge Bob or the other hundreds of programs being consumed by children. I know looking at the Itsy-Bitsy Spider it makes more sense than a modern Sponge-Bob episode. There is less seemingly random events, and the child will link those random events to create a story. This is how a child’s mind works. If you were to be honest, you saw a story in Go Dog Go that doesn’t appear today, without much effort. The children are doing this with Sponge Bob, to unknown effects.
Loony Tunes had a basic tautology of one character wanting to eat another character. There were no real question on either an adult’s mind or child’s mind what the plot was. And, it was significantly less suggestive to where a child would reasonably understand it. It didn’t borrow elements from the child’s culture, and then make suggestive provocations to them. It didn’t make those kinds of notions at all. It is still coherent today, and for some reason it diffused the aggression of its audience. I don’t know how it did, but probably by making our subconscious reflexes seem normal. It rather took the suggestive subconscious material of our day to day and dramatized it in a cartoon, where the audience could laugh, and therefore remedy the subconscious tension.
The modern cartoons aggravate those tensions. It rather augments reality’s most bitter annoyances, and then lays guilt traps on the audiences, catching culture cues such as the suggestive elements of a child’s day to day dealings with peers, not alleviating the frustration but aggravating it. How? Simply put, marketing. Which is how marketing works. The Trix Rabbit never gets the Trix, so the children must act out the Rabbit’s desire of obtaining the prize. Whatever prize is there in modern cartoons, that the child will want to obtain. It normally has some provocative nature, which must be understood by observing the child’s cultural climate. J.D. had pointed this out to me, and I had recognized it soon after with my own cousins.
How do we alleviate this? Simply put, with art. With Religion. With common sense. TV ratings are not enough to keep a child from watching a program. The rating systems are incompetent to understand the damage the program will do.
In short… there needs to be more research into how to construct movies and television programs to prevent children from growing frustrated. As, I see the art they consume only makes them frustrated. There needs to probably be researchers like Dr. Sues on every children’s network, firmly based in real psychology that makes the television producers produce good art.
Far reaching, it is the stories that the children are consuming which is creating the cultural climate we have today. Defiant. Angry. Bitter. Slothful. Entitled. Stories are impressively impactful on a child’s psychological state. I would rather more like “Its-Bitsy Spider” than even Hey Arnold. We need responsible artists, and that even for the adult population.