Theodor Seuss Geisel (March 2, 1904 – September 24, 1991) was an American writer, poet, and cartoonist most widely known for his children’s books written under the pen names Dr. Seuss, Theo LeSieg and, in one case, Rosetta Stone.
He published 46 children’s books, which were often characterized by imaginative characters, rhyme, and frequent use of trisyllabic meter. His most celebrated books include the bestselling Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Horton Hatches the Egg, Horton Hears a Who!, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. Numerous adaptations of his work have been created, including 11 television specials, four feature films, a Broadway musical and four television series. He won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1958 for Horton Hatches the Egg and again in 1961 for And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.
Geisel also worked as an illustrator for advertising campaigns, most notably for Flit and Standard Oil, and as a political cartoonist for PM, a New York City newspaper. During World War II, he worked in an animation department of the United States Army, where he wrote Design for Death, a film that later won the 1947 Academy Award for Documentary Feature.
Geisel’s birthday, March 2, has been adopted as the annual date for National Read Across America Day, an initiative on reading created by the National Education Association.
Though Geisel made a point of not beginning the writing of his stories with a moral in mind, stating that “kids can see a moral coming a mile off,” he was not against writing about issues; he said that “there’s an inherent moral in any story,”and he remarked that he was “subversive as hell.”
Many of Geisel’s books express his views on a remarkable variety of social and political issues: The Lorax (1971), about environmentalism and anti-consumerism; “The Sneetches” (1961), about racial equality; The Butter Battle Book (1984), about the arms race; Yertle the Turtle (1958), about Hitler and anti-authoritarianism; How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957), criticizing the materialism and consumerism of the Christmas season; and Horton Hears a Who! (1950), about anti-isolationism and internationalism.
Geisel wrote most of his books in anapestic tetrameter, a poetic meter employed by many poets of the English literary canon. This is often suggested as one of the reasons that Geisel’s writing was so well-received.
Anapestic tetrameter consists of four rhythmic units, anapests, each composed of two weak beats followed by one strong beat; often, the first weak syllable is omitted, or an additional weak syllable is added at the end. An example of this meter can be found in Geisel’s “Yertle the Turtle”, from Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories:
“And today the Great Yertle, that Marvelous he
Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.”
Some books by Geisel that are written mainly in anapestic tetrameter also contain many lines written in amphibrachic tetrameter, such as these from If I Ran the Circus:
“All ready to put up the tents for my circus.
I think I will call it the Circus McGurkus.
“And NOW comes an act of Enormous Enormance!
No former performer’s performed this performance!”
Geisel also wrote verse in trochaic tetrameter, an arrangement of a strong beat followed by a weak beat, with four units per line (for example, the title of One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish). The formula for trochaic meter permits the final weak position in the line to be omitted, which facilitates the construction of rhymes.
Geisel generally maintained trochaic meter only for brief passages, and for longer stretches typically mixed it with iambic tetrameter, which consists of a weak beat followed by a strong, and is generally considered easier to write. Thus, for example, the magicians in Bartholomew and the Oobleck make their first appearance chanting in trochees (thus resembling the witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth):
“Shuffle, duffle, muzzle, muff”
then switch to iambs for the oobleck spell:
“Go make the Oobleck tumble down
On every street, in every town!”