Monday, February 22, 2010

Dr. Seuss Stuck In My Head

I must have read this Dr. Seuss rhyme to my daughters dozens of times...........per daughter, and I have four of those.  All of my daughters remember this rhyme.  There is really no point to it.  Just a furry guy with a droopy hat, gold teeth, a bird, and one shoe off.  But the way this rhyme is presented and organized has made it memorable to me (and my girls).  I have this memorized for the rest of my life.  I can't forget it if I wanted to!!!  What's funny is that once you learn the first part of it, it's easy to remember the second part of it. You just work backwards.

The way it starts is the way it ends.  It's a chiasmus (pronounced ki-Az-mus)! A chiasmus is a literary writing form sometimes used by ancient Hebrew writers.  It's effective because it follows a predictable pattern.  What's cool about a chiasmus is that important ideas and words are emphasized through repetition and often located at the center. In Alma 36, Helaman is being taught by his father, Alma.  This chapter has a very unique organization to it.   There is a "build up" in the middle of the chapter, verses 17 & 18, and then it goes back the way it came. 

Alma is bearing his testimony to Helaman of his conversion; he uses very descriptive words. You can feel the depth of his emotion and urgent tone as he recounts this experience. In verses 17 & 18, the center of this chiasmus, he states what his "turning point" was:  "And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.  Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death."  Just when his message seems hopeless, you feel light and the relief of pain as he recalls his father's words of a Savior who would lift his burden.  You "feel" the turn. 

Now the chiasmus heads back in the other direction. Repentance was the "turning point" for Alma.  Once he reached the point where he could no longer bear his pain of guilt, he was able to ask the Lord to apply the Atonement to his life, promising never to go back to his former lifestyle.   As Alma 36 continues, Alma's words retrace the same steps, but in a more hopeful way.  He is forever changed, but rather than torment and pain, he describes joy, joy, and more joy.
I believe Alma taught repentance to Helaman this way so he would not forget it. As the upcoming religious leader of the Nephites, Helaman would need to teach this to the Nephites over and over again in order for them to remember their covenants to the Lord.    I have very fond memories of sitting with my girls at bedtime reading these books. They'll always be in my home.  I just never realized that Dr. Seuss would help me teach seminary.  Go figure.


  1. i, like you have a special place in my heart for dr suess...and btw, soooo good to see your smiling face yesterday. warmed my heart, like you cannot believe. i love you, lori.

  2. Brilliant always. I loved the Dr. Seuss example to teach the form of a chiasmus. It is the perfect way to explain that beautiful Hebrew poetry. I have read that chiasmus is the pure form of you suppose Dr. Seuss had that revealed to him? lol

  3. I went to a class at BYU education week once and that teacher was trying to explain chiasmus......he needed the Dr. Seuss example!