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April 17, 2011

Beware the deadly bathroom ninja!
They come in through the drains at night,
And lie in wait to kill or injure
Concealed in garb of gleaming white;
The sleepy midnight bathroom-goer
(As drowsy as a sloth, and slower)
Will never spot the plug’s ajar,
Nor dodge the outflung throwing-star;
Then, as the victim lies there dying,
The ninja slides like soap away
Before the breaking of the day,
All laws of God and land defying:
All murder is a sin, ’tis true;
But in the bathroom? Shame on you!

How then to stop the tiled assassins,
If locks and bolts will not suffice?
All doors and windows safely fastened,
And still they slither through the vice!
How may we safely use the toilet,
With ninjas waiting to despoil it?
O, what solution can there be?
– Do not despair, but list to me!
Disrupt their path and block their entry:
Fill all your plugholes up with goo,
And make your floorboards creaky, too;
With such precautions elementary
Your bathroom may be squalid, yes,
But safe from ninjas nonetheless.


I’m really liking the Onegin stanza. (I’ve already written one poem in it this month, and there may be more.) It’s well suited to the kind of rhyming shenanigans I tend to indulge in in any case, and the short-for-English tetrameter lines give it plenty of snap and wriggle. It shares with the Shakespearean sonnet the final couplet that is so good for one-liners (well, two-liners) and the ability to be split naturally into sense units along various lines: couplets/distichs,* quatrains and a couplet, a six and an eight, et cetera.

God only knows what Pushkin, who by all accounts created moments with this stanza to thrill the soul and pierce the heart, would have thought of my puerile crap about ninjas. It demonstrates the stanza’s versatility, at the very least.


*A distich is a unit of two consecutive lines of poetry, from the Greek – di, two, stichos, line. Distichs are not always but often also couplets, a couplet being two lines of verse which rhyme with one another.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Xiémuç Guiri permalink
    April 18, 2011 11:59 pm

    Pushkin, who by all accounts

    If this quote, as it appears to, means you haven’t read Eugene Onegin, then I prescribe 400g of James Falen’s translation immediately. On a scale of 1 to the Rubaiyat, it is a richly-deserved 9 with moments of inspired genius appearing on nearly every page.

  2. April 19, 2011 12:57 pm

    Guilty as charged; I’ve read only the excerpts in Le Ton Beau de Marot. I have, however, just added Falen’s translation to my Amazon wishlist, and will get to it when exams are over.

    “1 to the Rubaiyat“. Heh. Interesting choice of benchmark, as well, though I entirely agree with you. Anything else you would classify as a perfect Khayyam? The one that immediately springs to my mind is Adair’s A Void, which is both (I am assured) as dizzyingly weird as the French, and a tour de force of English composition in its own right.

  3. Xiémuç Guiri permalink
    April 22, 2011 1:18 am

    I can think of three translations into English that I would call perfect. One is the Rubaiyat; the others are Ralph Manheim’s translation of The Tin Drum and Gregory Rabassa’s translation of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Would you agree?

    I am hoping to read A Void sometime soon: it sounds like huge fun.

  4. April 22, 2011 1:29 am

    On One Hundred Years of Solitude, absolutely. I haven’t read The Tin Drum.


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