“Rhymes for the Irreverent” Released

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to announce the publication of lyricist Yip Harburg’s Rhymes for the Irreverent (January 2006).

Harburg, whose lyrics include “Over the Rainbow,” “Paper Moon,” “April in Paris,” and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”, was an avid agnostic who devoted much of his light verse to iconoclasm about religion and other taboos. Admired in the musical world for his great talent, Harburg was blacklisted for his nonconformist views.

Published in collaboration with the Yip Harburg Foundation, the new book, for the first time, offers a major selection of Yip’s whimsical rhymes in one place. The 240-page hardback book contains material from Harburg’s two books of rhyme, the original Rhymes for the Irreverent (1965) and At This Point in Rhyme (1976). The new collection also includes some recently discovered unpublished poems.

Captured in crystalline rhyme are comments lyrical and satirical on the human condition. Subjects range from the nursery to religion, philosophy, war, ethics, Watergate, music, planned parenthood, literary criticism, art, truth, and, of course, love.

“Harburg has never rhymed ‘June’ with ‘moon’ in his life,” writes author and philosopher Barrows Dunham. “I have known him to work for days to avoid an obvious idea. The result is, from time to time, a blaze of fireworks and Catherine wheels in which words, with their sounds and their meanings, are shot back and forth or whirled round in dazzling discipline.”

Fred Saidy, co-librettist of Finian’s Rainbow, has said of Harburg’s work, “His rhymes see contemporary life as endlessly menacing but ultimately hopeful. They will exhilarate you and they may exasperate you, but they will never stupefy you.”

Ernie Harburg, Yip’s son and a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, notes that his father is widely known as a great lyricist of classics: “But far fewer know Yip as a light verse poet. These poems represent Yip’s free spirit. He had a deep, tenacious commitment to social justice.”

The revision is lavishly illustrated with heretical cartoons by celebrated artist Seymour Chwast–the original illustrator of the 1965 book, who added many drawings for this version and is also a Foundation member.

The book includes biographical material and an interview, “Yip in his own words.”

“It’s a real honor for the Foundation to work on this Harburg project to continue enlightening the world not just through ideas but through art, wit and style,” said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president. “Who says freethought can’t be funny?”

The Foundation is grateful to Ernie Harburg, his sister Margie Harburg, and the Yip Harburg Foundation for their cooperation, collaboration and friendship.

Smile-inducing and thought-provoking, Rhymes for the Irreverent will make a welcome gift for yourself, friends, family and libraries.

The book may be purchased from FFRF, PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701 ($15-members; $20-nonmembers). Use the handy order form on the inside of your mailing wrapper, or go to ffrf.org/shop to order online.

Sneak Preview of Rhymes for the Irreverent by Yip Harburg

Lead Kindly Light
Where Bishop Patrick crossed the street
An “X” now marks the spot.
The light of God was with him,
But the traffic light was not.

“For what we are about to receive,
Oh Lord, ’tis Thee we thank,”
Said the Cannibal as he cut a slice
Of the missionary’s shank.

Federal Reserve
In ’29 when the banks went bust,
Our coins still read “In God We Trust.”

Life Is Liveable
They who live on love and laughter
Don’t mess around with the hereafter.

History Lesson
We learn this after every war
That life is not worth dying for.

Freedom From Religion Foundation