If I Ran the Zoo
by Dr. Seuss
If I Ran the Zoo Writing Style
Seuss's style consists of some pretty crazy words: nerkle (32.11), lunks (14.2), skeegle-mobile (9.8), and, oh, how about nippo-no-nungus (33.5). These one-of-a-kind words are usually linked to a one-of-a-kind creature or place or thing straight out of Seuss's one-of-a-kind brain.
Normally, when introduced to unfamiliar words, readers have a tendency to stumble over them, or they just skip over them altogether. But with Seuss's style, we see words we never would have encountered before, and we cruise over them as if they were always part of our personal diction.Why? Because the poetic meter informs us ahead of time how to approach these words through subtle rhythmic persuasion. You may not consciously pick up on it, but your brain sure does.
Speaking of poetic meter…
It sounds like something you'd need an exterminator to deal with, but an anapest is actually just a poetic foot, or a unique combination of syllables and stresses. In this case, an anapest is two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed one. It reads like "da da DUM."
If I Ran the Zoo is written in anapestic tetrameter, meaning there are four anapests in a row (tetra = four, see?). Here's an example:
In a cave in Kartoom lives a beast called the Natch (28.1)
(the stressed syllables are in bold to make things a little easier)
Some lines in the book aren't as easy, though. Here's one that's a bit more complicated:
"It's a pretty good zoo,"
Said young Gerald McGrew,
"And the fellow who runs it
Seems proud of it, too." (1.1-4)
It's still anapestic tetrameter. But each tetrameter is separated into two lines on the page, one of the anapests is divided by a line break, and the stressed syllables sometimes come hidden in multisyllabic words. Tricky, but not impossible. Once you've read the poem and gotten an ear for its meter, you'll be able to map the rhyme of just about this or any poem.
A word of warning though: Just because Seuss sticks with a particular meter for most of the poem doesn't mean he'll stay with it. After all, the only real rule in poetry is that all rules in poetry may be broken. It's perhaps the only rules Seuss was a stickler over.