Tickle me, dear

One of my favorite halloween and nonsense poems ever is The Lugubrious Whing-Whang by James Whitcomb Riley.

I don’t remember the first two stanzas very well. I think that someone, my mother, my father or my maternal grandfather, would read it to me starting with the third stanza. I loved the sounds and the mystery of the rhymes from very young. When we are very young, many words are mysterious. At some point I gathered that the Whing-Whang was a monster and was imaginary, but to a small child it’s hard to tell what is real and what is not. And then there is Santa Claus and the tooth fairy and the Great Pumpkin and religion and what is one to believe?

The rhyme o’ The Raggedy Man’s ‘at’s best
Is Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs,–
‘Cause that-un’s the strangest of all o’ the rest,
An’ the worst to learn, an’ the last one guessed,
An’ the funniest one, an’ the foolishest.–
Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs!

I don’t know what in the world it means–
Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs!–
An’ nen when I _tell_ him I don’t, he leans
Like he was a-grindin’ on some machines
An’ says: Ef I _don’t_, w’y, I don’t know _beans!_
Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs!–

Out on the margin of Moonshine Land,
Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs!
Out where the Whing-Whang loves to stand,
Writing his name with his tail in the sand,
And swiping it out with his oogerish hand;
Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs!

Is it the gibber of Gungs or Keeks?
Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs!
Or what _is_ the sound that the Whing-Whang seeks?–
Crouching low by the winding creeks
And holding his breath for weeks and weeks!
Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs!

Aroint him the wraithest of wraithly things!
Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs!
‘Tis a fair Whing-Whangess, with phosphor rings
And bridal-jewels of fangs and stings;
And she sits and as sadly and softly sings
As the mildewed whir of her own dead wings,–
Tickle me, Dear,
Tickle me here,
Tickle me, Love, in these Lonesome Ribs!

I love the idea of lonesome ribs, longing to be tickled. And the Whing-Whang is a monster or something lonely and frightening, but he too longs for love, even with fangs and stings. He longs for a monster to love him, even with mildewed and dead wings. Aren’t we all afraid that we are monsters and that we cannot be truly loved?

I took the photo in 2006, our family summer cabin from the early 1940s in Ontario, Canada.
Also published on everything2.com.

 

One thought on “Tickle me, dear

  1. […] Another poem that I adored as a child and still do is Moon Song by Mildred Plew Meigs. […]

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