To Avoid Covid 19, Here’s What You Can Do; or, Seuss versus Coronavirus, a New Kind of Flu

“Stethoscope Row,” from Dr. Seuss’s You’re Only Old Once! (1986)

Monday was the 116th birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss.  That morning, the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) emailed to ask if I would be willing to talk about Seuss live that afternoon on their Here and Now program.

I said I would be glad to, and we had a pre-interview telephone chat.

About 40 minutes before I was to appear the show, the CBC called again.  I assumed that breaking news had bumped the interview.  But no.  They were calling to ask if I would write a Seussian verse about the coronavirus.

In the hundreds of interviews I’ve done over the course of my career, I’ve never once been asked to write verse on spec.  But I thought: I have 40 minutes. I know Seuss’s meter well.*  I can do this.  So, I agreed.

During the interview, we discussed Seuss’s influence on children’s literature, why his work endures, and racist caricature in his work.  At the end of the interview, host Gill Deacon asked for my verse.  This is what I read:

When the man on the bus coughed up a cough

The people cried, “Help! Let us get off!”

A doctor on board said, “Wait! Now, don’t panic!

Fear’s not the way to survive a pandemic!

Stay calm. Heed experts. Take their advice:

Don’t touch your face. And wash your hands twice.

If you must sneeze, do an elbow ker-choo…

To keep germs from your hands, from your friends and Aunt Sue.”

Viruses spread. That’s just what they do.

But we can fight back, take care, and be smart.

And expert advice is the best place to start.

* Seuss typically wrote in anapestic tetrameter.  An anapest is two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable; “tetrameter” means that the anapest recurs four times in a line.  If the rhythm sounds familiar, that’s because limericks use anapests in their first, second, and fifth lines.  Or it’s because you’ve been reading a lot of Seuss.  Or, possibly, both.

Philip Nel, Professor


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