Poetry: Deck Us All in Boston Charlie

How many remember this nonsensical masterpiece by Walt Kelley?

Deck us all with Boston Charlie
Walla walla, Wash., an' Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezin' on the trolley
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley'garoo!
Don't we know archaic barrel
Lullaby lilla boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don't love Harold
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly
Polly welly cracker n' too-da-loo!
Donkey Bonny brays a carol
Antelope Cantaloup, 'lope with you!

Hunky Dory's pop is lolly gaggin' on the wagon
Willy, folly go through!
Chollie's collie barks at Barrow

Harum scarum five alarum bung-a-loo!

Duck us all in bowls of barley
Ninky dinky dink an' polly voo!
Chilly Filly's name is Chollie
Chollie Filly's jolly chilly view halloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly
Double-bubble, toyland trouble! Woof, Woof, Woof!
Tizzy seas on melon collie!
Dibble-dabble, scribble-scrabble! Goof, Goof, Goof!

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

14 Responses

  1. Gregory Fogg says:

    I liked Pogo back then, but looking back, it’s even better now.

  2. Ken Rosenberger says:

    Thanks for this, Dr Fleming. Pogo made two sublime contributions to the American scene, this and the much-quoted “We have met the enemy and he is us,” one saying that is always in style. Each year at Christmas time, they would usually work Boston Charlie into the expanded Sunday funnies, right before the 25th. I made the point one year to memorize at least the first two verses. Since the actual Deck the Halls is non-religious, I would have no qualms about using the Boston Charlie lyrics, if the real song was included in a sing-along at a party. Usually someone would catch me singing different lyrics and would listen to the words, with a somewhat bemused look on their face. Always a highlight of festivities for me. I’m glad you appreciate Walt Kelly’s stroke of genius tomfoolery. Merry Christmas, all!

  3. Vince Cornell says:

    I’m so confused. What’s a Pogo? I need to go do some research.

  4. Ken Rosenberger says:

    Very timely mention, Vince. The old-times funny pages mainstay Pogo was a possum, who lived with his friends in the Okefenokee Swamp, in the southeastern part of the state of Georgia. They were often commenting on the current political scene. Goodness knows how they might’ve handled characters like Trump, Stacey Abrams, and the very reverend Raphael Warnock.

    Georgia? Swamp? Trump? Politics?Christmas? Runoff election? Fraud? Why I think we have just arrived at the nexus of the universe

  5. Thomas Fleming says:

    Thanks for filling Vince in on Pogo. “Experts” on comic strips are divided between those who think Pogo is one of the very best strips and those who think it is by far the best. It’s hard to get a fix on Kelley’s politics. He ridiculed McCarthy in the form of a polecat, but he also introduced two sinister cowbirds–remember they are nest predators–who mouthed communist-sounding platitudes. As a boy, I was simply fond of the strip and knew that there were dimensions I was not getting. One of my favorite characters, after Albert the Alligator, was Churchy la Femme–should be the name of many mega-church pastors.

  6. Vince Cornell says:

    I found a collected volume on Amazon. Perhaps it will even arrive before Christmas. Of most of the comic strips I read as a kid, none of them have been all that great in revisiting as an adult (some have their moments, but of the Beetle Bailey’s and Wizard of Id’s there haven’t been a lot worth remembering), but I completely missed Pogo. I don’t think I ever even saw it as a reprint.

  7. Thomas Fleming says:

    Kelly died of diabetes complications in 1973–well before you were born, I should think. Pogo was not as endearing as Peanuts, and people did not go ga-ga every Christmas over any Pogo’s Christmas Special (thank goodness). I do remember seeing Walt Kelly on TV at one of the presidential conventions, and Pogo did run for the presidency. He’d have my vote today.

  8. Kellen Buckles says:

    Wasn’t Churchy la Femme a skunk? At the time I’m sure I didn’t get the dig at organized religion.

  9. Thomas Fleming says:

    Nope, a turtle who composed doggerell. I don’t think his name was a dig at all, just a pun, but it works today.

  10. Dot says:

    Now I know where Pogo went. I saw him one night looking for grub as he climbed the steps to the front porch. I haven’t seen him since. When I first saw a possum I thought it was the biggest rat in the world.

  11. Christopher Check says:

    I would have been seven when Kelly died. I remember Pogo and Albert the Alligator, but the strip is something I’ve come to appreciate in “reruns.” I did grow up on Peanuts and read it faithfully, and I agree with Tom that it was endearing in a way, but I have more reservations as time passes. The Christmas special gets me a little, but more out of nostalgia than anything else, I think. When I see the strip now I have to scratch my head. It’s not funny, none of the characters is especially likeable, and how many laughs can we have at the expense of a misfit with every pathology out there? Even Snoopy is a jerk to his owner. Is that the joke? A dog that’s not loyal? The best strip of my lifetime is Calvin and Hobbes; endearing sometimes and even laugh-out-loud hilarious. Watterson, to his credit, never agreed to merchandising. Someting in my memory, Tom, is that his aunt wrote you a few letters?

  12. Thomas Fleming says:

    Yes, she did. She was quite proud of her nephew Bill, and deservedly so. I infinitely prefer Calvin and Hobbes to Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh, and Watterson had more than a passing interest in the theology of human life, hence Calvin–a wonderful picture of fallen man in childhood, and Hobbes in a state of nature. The strips hold up well. My grandchildren always liked them, and when I would pick up a volume, I would always read a few strips. On the whole, I think Pogo was more three-dimensional, if perhaps less brilliant. It’s like being asked to choose between lamb and shrimp, a redhead and a brunette–Yes. Today, I don’t receive a newspaper, but I still look up Willie and Ethel and Mr. Boffo,. both written and drawn by Don Martin in nearby Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Among my many favorites is the Willie and Ethel strip in which two guys have opened an all-you-can-eat diner. They peeping through the blinds under the Grand Opening sign, and see the rotund shadows of the happy couple. One of them says to the other, “We gambled, we lost.”

  13. Christopher Check says:

    The answers to the above are lamb and a redhead if it’s Maureen O’Hara in How Green Was My Valley, even though it’s in black and white! A favorite Calvin strip of mine featured the boy offering to burp the alphabet for his father in exchange for money. His father counters: “No thank you, but I will pay you to pick up the sticks in the backyard.” Calvin grumbles: “No one wants to compensate me for my true talents.”

  14. Vince Cornell says:

    Volume 1 of the collected Pogo arrived in time for Christmas. I was happy to note in one of the very first strips Albert Alligator gyps Pogo out of a fish by using “science” to prove it was only 50% of a fish. From 1948 to the COVID present, some things definitely don’t change!

    And the kids already picked up on the “Boston Charlie” and have been singing it around the house. I’ll have to play them the YouTube clip later.