What do fictional Northern California biker gangs, a beloved television institution and two Victorian poets have in common? According to this video from Sesame Street’s amazing line of pop culture parody skits, they share a love of rhyming couplets, of course.
In typical Sesame Street fashion, they’ve taken something decidedly adult – the hit FX show Sons of Anarchy, which features violence, drugs, adult themes and language aplenty – and reformatted it to teach pre-K kids about the importance of rhyming. Your tax dollars at work, America!
The setup is that Robert and Elizabeth, who are sitting under a tree (natch), are enjoying a beautiful day in nature, but Robert is having a hard time finding a rhyme to finish this little ditty:
Roses are red / violets are blue
Sugar is sweet / and I love …
Fortunately for our puzzled poet, the Sons of Poetry ride into town and do what they do best: glower, collaborate and come up with solutions. (If you ever watched the source program, which several of us did through all seven seasons, you’ll know that the SAMCRO gang spends lots of time doing the first two, and the third one usually involves someone getting killed in a creative but extra-legal way.)
Because there’s magic in threes – and because Sesame Street has a whole hour of airtime to fill every weekday morning – we get the Sons working through three options to finish Robert’s rhyme: shoe, moo and stew. Immediately, I wondered if any or all of them showed up in the full text of our Browning Letters Project, and it turns out two of them do! (It would have been quite a surprise if “moo” had turned up, of course.) And now, presented without context (because it’s more absurdist fun that way), are some times Robert or Elizabeth used the words “shoe” or “stew” in their personal correspondence!
I was thinking last night that when you come & drop the silver penny into my shoe, our dear Mr Kenyon might just as well be here to take his chance for a penny too! What do you think?
Page 3, letter from Elizabeth to Mary Russell Mitford, September 25, 1841
I am grateful to all my guardian “little spirits with shoe buckles,” who ‘preserve my life’ from grandeeism, & “company” in the general forms of it.
Page 8, letter from Elizabeth to Mitford, July 22, 1845
I thought, thought, thought of you,-& the books I took up one by one .. (I tried a romance too .. “Les femmes” by a writer called Desnoyers .. quite new, & weak & foolish enough as a story, but full of clever things about shoe tyes .. philosophy in small:) the books were all so many lorgnons through which I looked at you again & again.
Page 1, letter from Elizabeth to Robert, August 9, 1845
(See more examples of the poets’ use of word “shoe” here!)
I did not stand in reach just now of the temptations of mesmerism. I might have said that I shrank nearly as much from these ‘temptations’, as from Lord Bacon’s stew of infant children for the purposes of witchcraft– Well—then I am getting deeper & deeper into correspondence with Robert Browning, poet & mystic,—& we are growing to be the truest of friends–
Page 10, letter from Elizabeth to Julia Martin, ca. January 28, 1845
A German professor selects a woman who can merely stew prunes-not because stewing prunes & reading Proclus make a delightful harmony, but because he wants his prunes stewed for him & chooses to read Proclus by himself.
Page 1, letter from Elizabeth to Robert, August 12, 1846
Because Robert can’t get his act together, he ends up losing the girl to the leader of the biker gang, which has probably happened a lot more times throughout history than we’d care to think about, even if it is in opposition to the real life ending of the courtship between Robert and Elizabeth. But then again, we weren’t able to find any references to Robert having to fend of a band of gun-running narco-bikers to keep fair Elizabeth’s hand, so maybe he merely lived in simpler times than our Muppet friends.
Lastly, in case you’re not familiar with Sons of Anarchy, we thought you’d like to see how well the geniuses at Sesame Street were able to replicate a crew of hardened criminals using only felt, yarn and elbow grease. Enjoy!
You can read more letters by Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning in our Browning Letters Project. The entire 7-season run of Sons of Anarchy is available on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and you can watch Sesame Street at pbskids.org. And if you want to see portraits and other artifacts related to the Brownings, be sure to visit the Armstrong Browning Library on the campus of Baylor University!