Monday, October 1, 2007

The Tale of Custard the Dragon by Ogden Nash

The Tale of Custard the Dragon

Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
And the little gray mouse, she called hum Blink,
And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.

Custard the dragon had big sharp teeth,
And spikes on top of him and scales underneath,
Mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose,
And realio, trulio daggers on his toes.

Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chased lions down the stairs,
Mustard was as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard cried for a nice safe cage.

Belinda tickled him, she tickled him unmerciful,
Ink, Blink and Mustard, they rudely called him Percival,
They all sat laughing in the little red wagon
At the realio, trulio, cowardly dragon.

Belinda giggled till she shook the house,
and Blink said Weeck! which is giggling for a mouse,
Ink and Mustard rudely asked his age,
When Custard cried for a nice safe cage.

Suddenly, suddenly they heard a nasty sound,
And Mustard growled, and they all looked around.
Meowch! cried Ink, and Ooh! cried Belinda,
For there was a pirate, climbing in the winda.

Pistol in his left hand, pistol in his right,
And he held in his teeth a cutlass bright,
His beard was black, one leg was wood;
It was clear that the pirate meant no good.

Belinda paled, and she cried Help! Help!
But Mustard fled with a terrified yelp,
Ink trickled down to the bottom of the household,
And little mouse Blink strategically mouseholed.

But up jumped Custard snorting like an engine,
Clashed his tail like irons in a dungeon,
With a clatter and a clank and a jangling squirm,
He went at the pirate like a robin at a worm.

The pirate gaped at Belinda's dragon,
And gulped some grog from his pocket flagon,
He fired two bullets, but they didn't hit,
And Custard gobbled him, every bit.

Belinda embraced him, Mustard licked him,
No one mourned for his pirate victim.
Ink and Blink in glee did gyrate
Around the dragon that ate the pirate.

But presently up spoke little dog Mustard,
I'd been twice as brave if I hadn't been flustered.
And up spoke Ink and up spoke Blink,
We'd have been three times as brave, we think,
And Custard said, I quite agree
That everybody is braver than me.

Belinda still lives in her little white house,
With her little black kitten and her little gray mouse,
And her little yellow dog and her little red wagon,
And her realio, trulio little pet dragon.

Belinda is as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chase lions down the stairs,
Mustard is as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard keeps crying for a nice safe cage.
--Ogden Nash

Here's another funny long narrative poem for kids. You can even find a nice picture book version. Once again, there are some truly clever rhymes, like "Ink trickled down to the bottom of the household, And little mouse Blink strategically mouseholed." and some oldies but goodies, like the "gyrate/pirate" one borrowed from Gilbert and Sullivan.

What I really like about this poem, though, is the idea that you don't have to be brave all the time. I've spent a large portion of my life being very afraid of a lot of things. It makes life really inconvenient at times. I've missed out on things like hiking Timp with my Dad because I'm afraid of falling off high things (Mountains are very high things, and mountain trails often have what I consider steep ledges dropping off one side. I have a hard time keeping myself from hyperventilating when I'm climbing the trail to the caves on Timp, which is a notoriously safe and easy trail). During college, I had a very hard time walking outside after dark, and often prevailed on my brothers or other guys to go out of their way to walk me home.

At the same time, I liked to tell myself that if it really mattered, I would be able to do the thing that scared me. I believed that if somebody's life depended on me climbing up someplace high, I'd be able to do it without freezing up, whereas when I was asked to climb up onto a rickety scaffolding to clean a roof (working at the metroparks), it reduced me to tears. Likewise, when I was in Moscow, and the only way to get to the Bolshoi theater was to walk, in the dark, past an abandoned construction site, and be accosted by mafia thugs, I made up my mind and did it.

I don't know if it makes sense to other people, but I think of myself as a brave person, even though I don't always do things that are uncomfortable for me. I've stopped worrying about what Peter will think of me if I make him deal with all the spiders and larger bugs that find their way into the house. I find other things to do with my family than mountain climbing. I may never go off a high dive. I carry a giant great safety pin for self defense when I go out at night (and believe me--that thing could do some damage). There are times when I let myself be shy at church events where I don't know people. I just plain don't watch certain types of scary movies--no matter how popular or well reviewed they are. I guess I'm saving up willpower for the times when it really matters.


  1. Hey, we had that out of the library recently. Kate didn't seem to like it that much. We'll have to try it again later.

  2. I remember memorizing this for Mrs. Manly's class in 2nd grade. She was the AWESOME teacher with the log cabin, covered wagon, and teepee who always had us memorizing poems and doing plays and reading stories. That same year I had the incredible Mrs. Nagy who introduced me to munching math. Those were the days....

  3. I also remember really loving the rhythm of this poem and had a hard time not bouncing around as I said it.

  4. You'll notice it has about the same rhythm as "Intergalactic" (warning: weird). I recommend reciting it in that style, with one person shouting each line and having two other people jump in on the last word.
    Belinda lived in a little white HOUSE!
    With a little black kitten and a little gray MOUSE!
    And a little yellow dog and a little red WAGON!
    And a realio, trulio, little PET DRAGON!


  5. Me like to have on a REALIO,TRULIO more than you said, steve