Happy Leap Day!

The comic possibilities of Leap Year inspired Gilbert & Sullivan in writing The Pirates of Penzance. Young Frederick, mistakenly apprenticed to a pirate instead of a pilot -- nursemaid Ruth, in charge of the apprenticeship, was a little hard of hearing -- has finally reached his twenty-first birthday, upon which he can be released from his indenture. Just as Frederick begins to celebrate the happy occasion, the Pirate King reminds him that, being a Leap Year baby, he is the victim of a clumsy calendar:


…And so, by a simple arithmetical process, you'll easily discover,

That though you've lived twenty-one years, yet, if we go by birthdays,

     you're only five and a little bit over!



Dear me!

Let's see! (counting on fingers)

Yes, yes; with yours my figures do agree!...

How quaint the ways of Paradox!

At common sense she gaily mocks!

Though counting in the usual way,

Years twenty-one I've been alive.

Yet, reckoning by my natal day,
Yet, reckoning by my natal day,

I am a little boy of five!


Ruth & King.

He is a little boy of five!



Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,

A paradox, a paradox,

A most ingenious paradox.

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,

A paradox.…


The poet Howard Nemerov, born on this day in 1920, was another to note the young-old paradox built into his birthday. Counting by fours, he turned fifteen in 1980; thus, "The Author to His Body on Their Fifteenth Birthday, 29 ii 80": 

Dear old equivocal and closest friend,

Grand Vizier to a weak bewildered king,

Now we approach The Ecclesiastean Age

Where the heart is like to go off inside your chest

Like a party favor, or the brain blow a fuse

And the comic-book light-bulb of Idea black out

Forever, the idiot balloon of speech

Go blank, and we shall know, if it be knowing,

The world as it was before language once again….


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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