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Friday, December 16, 2011

Number 314: Ogden Nash " The Boy Who Laughed At Santa Claus"

The Boy Who Laughed At Santa Claus

In Baltimore there lived a boy.
He wasn't anybody's joy.
Although his name was Jabez Dawes,
His character was full of flaws.

In school he never led his classes,

He hid old ladies' reading glasses,

His mouth was open when he chewed,

And elbows to the table glued.

He stole the milk of hungry kittens,

And walked through doors marked NO ADMITTANCE.

He said he acted thus because

There wasn't any Santa Claus.

Another trick that tickled Jabez

Was crying 'Boo' at little babies.

He brushed his teeth, they said in town,

Sideways instead of up and down.

Yet people pardoned every sin,

And viewed his antics with a grin,

Till they were told by Jabez Dawes,

'There isn't any Santa Claus!'

Deploring how he did behave,

His parents swiftly sought their grave.

They hurried through the portals pearly,

And Jabez left the funeral early.

Like whooping cough, from child to child,

He sped to spread the rumor wild:

'Sure as my name is Jabez Dawes

There isn't any Santa Claus!'

Slunk like a weasel of a marten

Through nursery and kindergarten,

Whispering low to every tot,

'There isn't any, no there's not!'

The children wept all Christmas eve
And Jabez chortled up his sleeve.
No infant dared hang up his stocking
For fear of Jabez' ribald mocking.

He sprawled on his untidy bed,

Fresh malice dancing in his head,

When presently with scalp-a-tingling,

Jabez heard a distant jingling;

He heard the crunch of sleigh and hoof

Crisply alighting on the roof.

What good to rise and bar the door?

A shower of soot was on the floor.

What was beheld by Jabez Dawes?

The fireplace full of Santa Claus!

Then Jabez fell upon his knees

With cries of 'Don't,' and 'Pretty Please.'

He howled, 'I don't know where you read it,

But anyhow, I never said it!'

'Jabez' replied the angry saint,
'It isn't I, it's you that ain't.

Although there is a Santa Claus,

There isn't any Jabez Dawes!'

Said Jabez then with impudent vim,

'Oh, yes there is, and I am him!

Your magic don't scare me, it doesn't'

And suddenly he found he wasn't!

From grimy feet to grimy locks,

Jabez became a Jack-in-the-box,

An ugly toy with springs unsprung,

Forever sticking out his tongue.

The neighbors heard his mournful squeal;

They searched for him, but not with zeal.

No trace was found of Jabez Dawes,

Which led to thunderous applause,

And people drank a loving cup

And went and hung their stockings up.

All you who sneer at Santa Claus,
Beware the fate of Jabez Dawes,
The saucy boy who mocked the saint.
Donner and Blitzen licked off his paint.

-- Ogden Nash

Hap Notes: It seems that Nash wants us to pronounce this name Jay-beez so that it rhymes with "babies." But I think he wants us to pronounce "babies" as babbez, which is funnier, actually. It's a fun poem to read aloud.

It's typical Nash humor to list the boy's faults as going though doors marked "No admittance" (to rhyme with "kittens") and brushing his teeth the "wrong" direction and hiding the reading glasses of old ladies. Note how the town can forgive him all his bratty pranks except his crushing of the magic of Saint Nick.

Jabez means "he makes sorrowful" in Hebrew (yabetz, which is decidedly not pronounced Yay-beetz.) and a few years back much was made of a prayer that Jabez (in the book of I Chronicles in the Bible as a member of the lineage of the tribe of Judah) in which he implores God to keep him from harm and increase his territories. The book about it was called "The Prayer of Jabez" and it was a huge best-seller.

The Jabez story in the Old Testament is not to blame for what was made of it in the best-selling book about the prayer. But it is irritating when folks who claim to know God tell you what will make you prosperous. I just don't think the Bible is a very good tool for learning about economics, budgeting, investment opportunities and gaining monetary profits. I don't believe that is the point of the text. Prosperity, after all, is in the eye of the beholder. Some people never get enough. I choose to think of the Jabez prayer as a guy trusting that God is worth talking to about everything, not that God cares about wealth. Imagine, if you will, a deity so petty as to be concerned with what you own– what is he, a banker? And if Jabez was sure that God was going to answer his prayer, wouldn't it have been nice if he'd asked for something for everyone? And furthermore, in the case of the book, it seems to be an excuse to once again villainize the poor– they just haven't enough "faith" to be well off; a disgusting way of rationalizing greed and assuaging guilt.

Gosh, when I digress, I really digress... let's go back to the Nash poem, which is an open and shut case for the indictment of those who do not believe in Santa. Even if you don't believe in him, there's no sense in bragging about the fact that you have no imagination and heart. Shutting down people who believe in Santa does no one credit. In this poem, Santa has a little more backbone than he is usually pictured as having. He doesn't just give the offending, hard-hearted Jabez a bit of coal, he turns him into a broken jack-in-the-box (which seems very fitting, doesn't it?)

Nash's sense of humor is wickedly clever and the poem is primarily meant to amuse. However, the gravest things are said in jest and this poem is also Nash's way of warning us not to kick the magic out of everything in life.

Here is where we have talked about Nash before:

and here:

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