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Cover of a book by Walter Hamilton, entitled "Parodies of the works of English & American Authors."
A detail of a title page for the book "Parodies of the works of English & American authors" by Walter Hamilton. This piece is from the Library's Walt Whitman Papers in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection. (Manuscript Division, Library of Congress)

Potatoes & Parodies: Inspiring Creativity in the Library of Congress

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Here at the Library of Congress, we often spend time exploring the collections where we discover all kinds of interesting resources. On one of my recent explorations of the Library’s digital collections, I came across song lyrics for “The Last Rose of Summer” published by H. De Marsan in New York City. The lyrics are sad, talking about the last rose of the summer season. It is the only flower left while the others have fallen from their stems. The singer then compares the last rose to being alone in the world, without friends.

Lyric sheet for "The Last Rose of Summer." The lyrics are surrounded by drawings of people and children in a garden and by a fountain. The drawings also include baskets of fruit.
The Last Rose of Summer, published by H. De Marsan. (Rare Book and Special Collections Division Library of Congress)

This lyric sheet is from the America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets collection of the Library of Congress. After finding it, I was encouraged to explore the collection further. As I searched, I came across another song sheet, “The Last Potato,” also published by H. De Marsan. The lyrics on this song sheet are similar to “The Last Rose of Summer” but “The Last Potato” is considered a parody. A parody is a recreation of a work, in the same style as the original, but exaggerated for comedic effect.  “The Last Potato” takes inspiration from “The Last Rose of Summer” but changes the lyrics to create something new. The song starts off by identifying the singer’s last potato. As they debate if they should eat the potato or not, they eventually ask, who could resist a last potato?

Lyric sheet for "The Last Potato." The lyrics are surrounded by cartoon drawings of people, florals and a ship.
The Last Potato” lyric sheet parody on “The Last Rose of Summer” Published by H. De Marsan. (Rare Book and Special Collections Division, The Library of Congress)

These song sheets feature two different stories, as told through their lyrics. One is sad and shows the creator’s musings about the last rose left on the bush, whereas the other song sheet is humorous, making a joke of the singer’s dilemma with what to do with the last potato. “The Last Potato” is a parody of “The Last Rose of Summer.” I wondered about parodies and what other examples are in the Library’s collection? Could I even try to write my own parody of “The Last Rose of Summer?”

As I began my research, I wanted to see what other people said about parodies and how to create them. On April 4, 1915, Washington, D.C.’s Evening Star newspaper published an article called “Mother Goose and the Parodists.” This article instructs aspiring parody writers to make sure that the item to be parodied is familiar. Providing examples based on the nursery rhymes “Mary Had a Little ” and “Jack and Jill” the article explains that these jingles are so well known that they can’t fail to be recognized when in parody form. The article provides the example below as a successful spoof of the original.

“Mary had a little lamb,

She put it on the shelf,

And every time it wagged its tail

It spanked its little self.”

This print features the poem "Mary Had a Little Lamb" with an image of a dark-haird girl in a dress tugging along a small white and black lamb toy on a rope.
Mary Had a Little Lamb rhyme and image (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

However, author Frederick Hall says that the parody writers will most likely be forgotten, even if their work is successful. He highlights J.W. Foley’s “timely and charming” parodies including those of “Jack Spratt.”

“Jack Spratt could eat no fat,

His wife could eat no leans,

Because they joined a Raw Food Club,

Where all the grub was greens.”

An older couple sit at a table eating below the rhyme for "Jack Sprat." A larger woman stabs her fork into food on the table while a skinny man eats off of a knife. A skinny black cat watches from the floor.
Image from “Mother Goose” of the “Jack Sprat” rhyme. Arranged and edited by Eulalie Osgood Grover and illustrated by Frederick Richardson. (Library of Congress)

Parodies aren’t just written reworkings of lyrics. In the June 10, 1962, edition of the Evening Star (Washington, D.C.) Bernie Harrison writes of an upcoming television special “Carol and Julie at Carnegie Hall” The production starred Carol Burnett and Julie Andrews performing a series of skits. One of the big performance numbers in the show was “the Pratt Family,” a comedic parody of the Von Trapp family from “The Sound of Music,” which starred Julie Andrews in the film adaptation.

Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett, leap into a pose with their legs folded as they smile at the viewer. Behind them is a theater with a full audience of observers. A "TV Magazine" logo is on the top of the image.
Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett jump on stage to advertise their TV special (Chronicling America, Library of Congress)

Entire books can also be parodies, or satires, of a specific work or a genre of works. The Columbia Evening Missourian newspaper from November 1, 1922, highlighted two new books of this type. These books were “If Winter Don’t” written by A.B. C. D. Notsomuchinson, most likely a pen name, and “Parody Outline of History”, by Donald Odgen Stewart. “If Winter Don’t” was described as a new work attracting attention in London. Stewart’s work describes historical events in the styles of different popular authors including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edith Wharton. Both books were seen as a break from the more serious pieces of literature at the time. The article also highlights another, more famous parody. Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” was a satire of the popularized travel book style of the early 1700s. Swift’s book ended up maintaining relevance long beyond the books it was satirizing.

Black and White drawing of a giant man with ropes and ladders at his feet. Smaller people stand below him with fallen long weapons in their hands. In the background is an old town with towers and pointed roofs.
Illustration from “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift. Wood engraving by C.E. Brock. (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

Sometimes musical parodies are recorded. The National Jukebox  collection of the Library of Congress has several examples of parody songs including “Tell us, Pretty Ladies,” a song recorded in 1901, which is a parody of “Tell Me Pretty Maiden.” The collection also has other songs like “Parody on ‘Dearie’” and “Parody on Eight Familiar Songs.” Each of these works is a play on another piece that was already created. While we may be unfamiliar with these songs and their adaptations, the parodies worked then because audiences at the time would have been familiar with the original pieces.

Allen Sherman, a musician featured on the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry, bridges the time between the National Jukebox artists and parody writers that you may know today. Sherman’s song “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry as part of the 2019 inductee class. Using the music from the opera La Gioconda, and the song “Dance of the Hours” the lyrics were inspired by letters from Sherman’s son, complaining about his time at summer camp.

With all this information about parodies and knowing that I could take inspiration from other works to create a satirized version of my own, I decided to try my hand at changing the lyrics of “The Last Rose of Summer” to reflect another idea, just as the “The Last Potato” did.

To write my own parody, I first looked at the structure of “The Last Rose of Summer.” The lyrics are sets of four-line groups with the second and forth lines rhyming with each other. The first and third lines do not rhyme. This investigation gave me an idea of how I would format my lyrics.

Next, I decided what topic to write about. “The Last Rose of Summer” and “The Last Potato” both express some sadness and longing. I wanted my topic to evoke similar feelings to keep the parody close to the original, and be more recognizable. With these thoughts in mind, I chose to write about the feeling I have when my cat is sitting on my lap, but I must get up. “The Last Cat Upon My Lap” is my parody version of “The Last Rose of Summer.”

“The Last Cat Upon My Lap”

 

My legs are now long numb,

I cannot move a bit.

For curled up upon my lap

Is where the last cat will sit.

 

Her quiet snore, a soothing sound,

That echoes in my mind.

Her fluffy fur so soft and warm,

She leaves me in a bind.

 

Alas I must soon depart,

And giver her one more pat.

For I have many things to do,

And can’t wait upon my cat.

 

What parody would you write? Would it be a poem, a story, lyrics, or a song? Try finding inspiration from the Library’s collection and create your own parody . As you look for an item to parody, remember that, as the Washington, D.C.’s Evening Star newspaper said, your audience should be familiar with the original work. Make sure they know the original piece or introduce it to them before sharing your version.

Next, think about how you would start writing your piece. Try looking at the structure of the item you want to parody. What makes that piece unique? Are there any features of the work that you would want to mimic so people would be able to recognize the original inspiration? Recreating these key elements in your parody will help it be successful.

Think of the topic you want your creation to be about. Is it something your audience will understand or relate to? If the subject is relatable, the audience will be able to better understand the topic and find the humor in your piece.

Once you’ve created your parody, try making it a competition with your family. Who can create the funniest parody from something you’ve found in the Library’s collections?

Check out these additional resources on parodies from the Library’s collections to inspire your work:

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