Theodore Seuss Geisel was born on this date, March 2, in 1904.
It is called anapestic tetrameter, and for those outside of the campus department of English, the technique might sound difficult and insufferable, but it becomes a pleasant banter when metered out by the talented hand:
“I say!” murmured Horton. “I’ve never heard tell
Of a small speck of dust that is able to yell.
So you know what I think?... Why, I think that there must
Be someone on top of that small speck of dust!
Some sort of a creature of very small size,
Too small to be seen by an elephant’s eyes…”
Theodore Seuss Geisel, or Dr. Seuss, wrote his famous Horton Hears a Who in anapestic tetrameter. It is a peculiar line, composed of four sets (tetrameter) of three-syllable feet in which the first two syllables are short and the third is long (anapest). Dr. Seuss complicated his lines, per the above from Horton, by rhyming the ends in an AABB scheme.
Simply put, when Dr. Seuss penned a children’s book, the result might have been easy to read, but there was a complicated process at work behind it. And although he did not use the same technical poetic formulas for each work, all of his works show a mastery of techniques, imagination, and rhythm.
Had history played its hand in a different direction, Theodore Seuss Geisel might not be known for his books so much as for his beer. The Geisel family of Springfield, Massachusetts, became a brewing family soon after the arrival of the Geisel patriarch, Theodor Geisel—Dr. Seuss’s grandfather—in 1867. Geisel began brewing in 1876, and for two generations the family crafted some of the best beers in the northeast United States.
However, as the third generation entered college in the form of young Theodore, the barley-crushing monster of Prohibition rose on the horizon. Geisel biographers Judith and Neil Morgan state in their biography Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel:
In January of 1919 the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified by the states, and one year later Prohibition became law. Ted’s grandfather had predicted it but did not live to endure it; he died on December 5, 1919. Ted’s father rose, according to plan, from general manager to president of the merged Springfield Breweries, but it was a hollow tenure. The Volstead Act set the legal alcohol limit at one half of 1 percent and made it illegal to consume alcohol unless it had been bought prior to 1920. That meant the Geisel brewery was doomed.
As brewing was not an option for Theodore S. Geisel, he entered Dartmouth to study English. With some success there as a cartoonist and an editor, he went on to Oxford to study literature, but left the school and married Helen Palmer in 1927.
Geisel was not a man of limited success in one industry. His advertisements for Flit insecticide were seen all over, and as the Morgans note, “Flit sales increased wildly. No advertising campaign remotely like it had succeeded before on such a grand scale. The series found its way into history of advertising.” Theodore and Helen Geisel also wrote for the documentary Design for Death, which received an Academy Award in 1948.
However, it is for his children’s books that Theodore Geisel and Dr. Seuss will be forever known. Such titles as The Cat in the Hat and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish are standards of children’s literature, and the holiday film repertoire is not complete without an edition of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
—Warren Perry, Catalog of American Portraits, National Portrait Gallery
Theodore Geisel ("Dr. Seuss") / Everett Raymond Kinstler / Watercolor, pencil and charcoal on paper, 1982 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Everett Raymond Kinstler / © 1982 Everett Raymond Kinstler
Neal Morgan and Judith Morgan, Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel (New York: De Capo Press, 1995)
Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who (New York: Random House, 1954)