The Tale of Custard the Dragon
By Ogden Nash
· ‘The Tale of Custard the Dragon’ is a humorous ballad composed by Ogden Nash, an American poet who is known for his light verse.
· The poem is humorous in tone and being a ballad, it is lyrical in nature.
· A Ballad is a story in form of poem or song. It is meant to be narrated, sung as well as performed on stage.
· The poem is composed in stanzas of four lines each rhyming aabb. Lot of poetic repetition and beautiful use of poetic devices make it a musical, rhythmic and lyrical in nature.
· It being a tale is a didactic poem. It conveys in a very light hearted manner that ‘barking dogs seldom bite’ or ‘thundering clouds seldom bring rain’.
· The message of the poem is that humble and modest people don’t brag, but act on time.
The poem is a story of a little girl, Belinda who lived in her little white house with her four pets. She had a kitten, a mouse, a dog and a dragon. She also had little red wagon which is her car. The name of the kitten was Ink, mouse was called Blink. The dog’s name was Mustard because it was as sharp as mustard and yellow like mustard flowers. The dragon was coward, lazy, comfort loving and, a shy creature. Belinda called it Custard due its soft, sweet and nice nature as it loved peace, rest and comfort, and didn't talk of bravery, violence and fight. Custard had sharp teeth, spikes on its upper body and scales underneath the body and sharp toes like daggers. The mouth of dragon was like a fireplace and its nose was like a chimney spewing smoke.
Belinda and her pets bragged highly about their bravery, power and ferocious nature. But, Custard didn’t consider himself brave and never boasted about his power and bravery. It loved peace, comfort and rest. He always wanted a nice safe and cozy place for himself. Belinda and her pets made fun of dragon’s cowardly nature and teased him. They sarcastically called him ‘Percival’ who was a brave knight in King Arthur's army. The car would shake and the house would echo with their laughter.
One day they all heard an unpleasant sound. They all cried helplessly as they saw a pirate entering through a window. The pirate had pistols in both his hands and a bright knife held in his teeth. His beard was black and one of his legs was wooden. It was clear he didn’t mean any good. He had come to rob them.
Seeing the pirate, Belinda was fearful and cried for help. Ink, Blink and Mustard ran away to hide themselves. However, Custard came forward and made fearful sounds, twisted his body, hit his tail on the ground and surrounding things and attacked the pirate. The pirate was surprised and terrified, so he took his energy drink (drink mixed with rum) out of his pocket and drank it in gulps. Then, he fired two bullets but they did not hit Custard. Finally, Custard tore him into pieces and ate him.
Belinda and the pets being happy hugged Custard and danced around him joyfully. Not one of them was sad for the pirate. However, things didn’t change much even after the incident. They continued speaking of their bravery and Custard remained as humble and meek as ever. Belinda still lives in her white house with her pets.
Stanza wise Explanation :
The poem ‘The Tale of Custard the Dragon’ is a ballad. It is a story of a little girl named Belinda who lived in her little white house with her four pets. She had a little black kitten, a little grey mouse, a little yellow dog and a dragon. She also had little red wagon which is her car. They lived together like a happy family.
The name of black kitten was Ink and grey mouse was named as Blink. The dog’s name was Mustard because it was as sharp as mustard. The dragon was really and truly very coward, meek, modest and shy. Belinda called it ‘Custard’ due to its sweet and soft nature.
Describing the appearance of the dragon the poet tells that Custard had big and sharp teeth. It had spikes on its upper body and had scales underneath its body. The mouth of dragon was like a fireplace as it was very hot. Its nose was like a chimney oozing out fiery smoke. Its toes were like knives as it had sharp nails on its toes.
Belinda and her pets always bragged highly about their bravery. Belinda considers herself brave equal to many bears. Ink and Blink thought that they were so strong and brave that they could chase the lions and force them to run away. Mustard finds himself brave enough to defeat an angry tiger. But Custard never considered himself brave and never boasted about his power. On the contrary, he behaved as a coward. He always kept crying and seeking a nice, safe and quiet place for himself.
That’s why, Belinda used to tease and irritate the dragon rudely. Her pets also made fun of dragon and sarcastically called him ‘Percival’ who was a brave knight in the army of King Arthur. Belinda and her pets used to laugh at the dragon who was really and truly a coward. They used to make fun of him mercilessly and loudly while sitting in the red wagon which used to shake due to their laughter.
Belinda laughed so loudly that she would shake the house and the whole house would echo with the laughter of the pets. Ink and Mustard would ask the dragon about his age in order to make fun of him calling him a baby who is scared of fight and violence and the dragon would seek a nice safe and cozy place to hide himself.
Suddenly, they all heard an unpleasant sound. Mustard growled out of fear. They all looked around. Ink and Belinda uttered a loud cry because they saw a pirate who entered the house through a window.
In this stanza the poet described the pirate making a beautiful use of imagery. The pirate had pistols in both his hands. He was holding a shining knife in his teeth. His beard was black and one of his legs was made up of wood. It means leg was artificial. His appearance made it clear that he didn’t mean any good. It was evident that he came to rob them.
Seeing the pirate, Belinda lost the colour of her face due to fear. She started crying for help. Mustard, being too much terrified, ran away from the place. The kitten ran to the innermost part of the house and mouse ran to the deepest hole to hide themselves. This stanza is ironical as all the animals and Belinda who had boasted a lot of their of their bravery, ran away from the place and his themselves when it was right time to do an act of bravery.
When all of them ran away to save themselves, Custard came forward showing lot of courage and made fearful sound like that of an engine. It clashed its tail and made a loud sound as if he was hitting the iron bars in a dungeon, an underground prison. The dragon made sounds, twisted its body in a circular motion and attacked the pirate in the manner a crow jumps on the worm to eat it.
The pirate was little surprised and terrified, a bit. He drank some drink, a drink mixed with rum from his pocket container to make himself energised. Then, he fired two bullets but, they did not hit Custard. Finally, Custard tore him into pieces and ate him.
Belinda was so happy and excited that she hugged Custard. Mustard, being very pleased started licking him. Ink and Blink danced around the dragon joyfully. Not one of them was sad for the pirate.
However, things didn’t change much even after the incident. They started giving excuses for running away from the spot. Mustard said that he would have also shown his bravery, if he hadn’t been confused and dizzy. Similarly, Ink and Blink also gave excuses and spoke about their bravery. They all continued speaking of bravery and Custard remained as humble, meek and gentle as ever.
Stanza 14 & 15
The last two stanzas are repeated to emphasise and highlight that Belinda still lives in her white house with her pets joyfully and noisily. All of them continued speaking high of their bravery and Custard retained his meek and gentle nature. It conveys the moral that 'barking dogs seldom bite'.
Difficult words and terms
Wagon – car, vehicle
Realio trulio – really truly
Spikes – sharp pointed nails
Barrel – long, big container
Rage – anger
Tickled – teased, poked to make fun
Percival – a knight in King Arthur’s army
Giggled – laughed heartily
Weeck – laugh of kitten
Nasty – unpleasant
Growled – angry sound of dog
Meowch – sound of cat
Winda – window
Cutlass – small sword, knife
Yelp – cry of dog
Strategically – creatively, in a planned way
Clashed – hit
Dungeon – underground prison
Squirm – moving in circular motion
Robin – crow
Gaped – looked in surprise
Gulped – drank in large draughts
Grog – beverage (rum), energy drink mixed with rum, water, lime, etc.
Flagon – container
Gobbled – ate, swallowed
Gyrate – dance, moving round in dance moves
Glee – joy
Flustered – confused, dizzy
Note : Being a lyrical ballad it is full of poetic repetition and poetic devices based on sound such as alliteration, assonance and consonance can be found in almost all lines.
With a little black kitten and a little grey mouse – poetic repetition, assonance
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon – polysyndeton, poetic repetition, anaphora
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon – assonance, refrain, anaphora
And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard – simile, anaphora
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard – alliteration, consonance
And spikes on top of him and scales underneath – alliteration, ploysyndeton, imagery
Mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose – simile, metaphor, imagery
Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears – alliteration, simile, hyperbole
And Ink and Blink chased lions down the stairs – repetition, assonance, hyperbole
Mustard was as brave as a tiger in a rage – simile, hyperbole, repetition
Ink, Blink and Mustard, they rudely called him Percival – allusion, sarcasm
Belinda giggled till she shook the house – hyperbole, alliteration, assonance
And Blink said Week! which is giggling for a mouse – onomatopoeia, assonance
When Custard cried for a nice safe cage – alliteration, refrain, assonance
And Mustard growled, and they all looked around – onomatopoeia, consonance
Meowch! cried Ink, and Ooh! cried Belinda – onomatopoeia, repetition
Pistol in his left hand, pistol in his right – poetic repetition, imagery
And he held in his teeth a cutlass bright – alliteration, imagery
His beard was black, one leg was wood – imagery
Belinda paled, and she cried, Help! Help – irony, repetition
But Mustard fled with a terrified yelp – irony, consonance, onomatopoeia
Ink trickled down to the bottom of the household – irony, assonance
And little mouse Blink was strategically mouseholed – irony
But up jumped Custard, snorting like an engine – simile, onomatopoeia, consonance
Clashed his tail like irons in a dungeon – simile, hyperbole, imagery
With a clatter and a clank and a jangling squirm – onomatopoeia, assonance, poetic repetition
He went at the pirate like a robin at a worm – simile, imagery
And gulped some grog from his pocket flagon – alliteration, imagery
Ink and Blink in glee did gyrate – alliteration, assonance, imagery
Important Question Answers
Q. What is a ballad? Describe how the poem ‘A Tale of Custard the Dragon’ is a ballad.
Ans. Ballad is a narrative of a tale, episode, incident or history in form of poem which is meant to be narrated, sung and performed. ‘A Tale of Custard the Dragon’ is humorous and light hearted through and through. It is purely musical with full of sound words and the use of poetic devices such as alliteration, assonance, poetic repetition, and refrain. The description of characters with their attitude and manners brings out dramatic irony, conflicts, climax and anti climax of a thrilling story. Episode of the pirate is narrated in a light hearted tone. The exaggerated boasting by the pets, unchanged attitude of pets and Belinda even at the end is quite humorous and ironical.