Looking through my old physics textbook (Weber, White, and Manning—we knew who wrote our textbooks) from Penn State, I found this nonsense poem I had written in pencil in the back cover :
What a funny little bird a frog are.
Him got no tail at all, hardly.
When him walk, him hop.
When him sit, him sit on tail,
But him got no tail at all, hardly.
What a funny little bird a frog are!
I knew it so well, I could still recite it by heart after reading just the first few words, but I have no recollection of where I heard it or why I kept it. I Googled it and found it has many variations, which is the mark of a folk poem. Some knew it as a song. No one knew its origin. All said it was just something they heard as a child.
My guess is I heard it from Dick Stein, an older, married friend at Penn State on the GI Bill, who was also a chemistry major with the same goofy tastes as me. We sat together in the last row in almost every class simply because both “S” and “W” fall near the end of the alphabet. He died a few years ago, so it is too late to ask him.
I also learned from him another nonsense song, “I Love Bananas (Because They Got No Bones),” that still runs through my head whenever I eat a banana, which is often.
The frog song makes a philosophical point: A frog only seems queer when you think of it as a bird. Placing someone in a category often makes that person seem strange when they don’t belong in that category in the first place. The category is wrong, not the person. Many teenagers seem strange when we think of them as adults. The same goes for seniors, gays, conservatives, or any category we use for people.
YouTube has a fascinating, ultramodern version of the frog poem sung as a very complex four-part round: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHwwJkKp7Oo I had no idea of the artistic potential of a round. I thought “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” was as far as it could go.
The YouTube song has deservedly gotten over 100,000 views. and I put it on my favorites toolbar. Live graphics and text help to follow the singing. Their first line, and title, is, “What a queer bird the frog are,” and that is what you have to search for to bring up all of the many variations.
Their version goes:
What a queer bird the frog are
When he sit he stand (almost)
When he walk he fly (almost)
When he talk he cry (almost)
He ain’t got no sense (hardly)
He ain’t got no tail, either (hardly)
He sit on what he ain’t got (hardly)
I love it! even better than Dick Stein’s version. I kid you not.