The EXAM Centre Upside Down
BY Minnelle Doole
Alexander Kushner was born in Leningrad into a Russian-Jewish family. After graduating from Herzen University, he taught Russian literature for five years and later became a full-time writer and poet. Kushner has published about 15 collections of poetry and a couple of books of essays. Alexander Kushner who is known as one of the best lyrical poets of the 20th century published Upside Down under the theme humour.
Once there lived an Upside-Down
Who was the talk of all the town.
If he was told to turn to right
He turned to left out of spite.
If he went sailing in a boat
No one could make him understand
Why he seem to be afloat
And what had happened to the land.
He read his letters backside-fore,
And wrote his letters backside-fore.
So if a "ton" was to be read
He read it "not," the dunder-head!
All his life he was afraid
To cross a bridge. He'd always wade
(Unless the water was too deep
Or the embankment was too steep.)
He went into a restaurant;
The waiter said, "What do you want?"
He said, "I'd like a pair of socks
With clocks on them, and in a box."
The circus came to town one day;
Of course he went without delay.
And everyone said Upside-Down
Was funnier than the circus clown.
Just yesterday the postman brought
A letter to him from his aunt:
"Shall I read it? P'raps I ought,
P'raps I will, p'raps I can't."
The poem Upside – Down is a poem that presents humour. The poem is about an individual who misunderstood everything and behaved idiotically, which was a source of amusement for everybody. He was called the Upside Down because he was an eccentric individual who interpreted everything he came across the opposite way to which it was intended to be: "If he was told to turn to right, He turned to left out of spite". The humour arises mainly from the unpredictability and the absurdity of Upside-Down's behaviour.
The poem contains several of the character's 'upside-down' acts which is often considered to be hilarious by the rest of the townsfolk. He did not understand the reality and no one could make him act rationally: "All his life he was afraid to cross a bridge.
He is also depicted as being very unsure of himself and his abilities: "Shall I read it...p'raps I can't."
Due to his eccentric manner and irrational behaviour, Upside-Down has become the laughing stock of society. He is considered to be a social 'misfit' even though he is not considered to be an anti-social character.
The poet presents a number of simple situations that this person misunderstood and acted irrationally and frivolously, which in turn evoke the laughter of the townsfolk.
Kushner uses many literary techniques to evoke laughter and to highlight the humour aspect of the poem.
Simple flow of action: The poet, in each stanza, presents a series of silly mistakes of the central character and how he never followed others and made a fool of himself. The poet easily achieves the goal of creating humour through repetition of the actions of the character
Implication : The poet avoids mentioning any attempt that this person took to correct himself. This careful avoidance brings us to the focal information that he enjoyed being the cynosure, but never took anything seriously.
Rhythm and Rhyme: The rhyme scheme used here provides a light rhythm and makes the poem flow easily. It points to the light humorous nature of the character who does not think seriously about what he does, but only enjoys the laughter that his behaviour evokes.
Repetition: This poem uses repetition as its main technique, presenting the incidents through a simple flow of action, of the silly mistakes of the central character and how the society reacted to them. The poet easily creates humour through the actions of the character.
The poem has a simple rhyme scheme and an easy-moving rhythm in a light hearted tone.The use of direct speech at certain places also makes the poem interesting.
Answer the following question:
1. How does the title "Upside Down" match the actions of this person? Pick out words and actions that highlight the absurdity of the central character.
2. Humour in the poem is created through exaggeration of situations. List the situations mentioned in the poem that arouse humour through exaggeration. Mention any thing that this person attempted to do seriously.
3. List two situations which show Upside Down's lack of closeness to everyday life.
4. What does the response he gave to the waiter at the restaurant, tell us about him?
5. Of the two, the clown in the circus and this character, who did things that he had seriously learned and practiced?
6. Is there any serious aspect brought into the poem by his aunt's letter?
7. How far does the rhyme scheme contribute to create the absurdity of the central character?
8. In day-to-day life, we come across situations, where relevant answers are not given to questions asked. Such responses evoke humour. Find a similar situation from the poem.
9. Why doesn't he attempt to correct himself?
10. What, do you think, is the theme of this poem?
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