‘Bazonka’ by Spike Milligan is a four stanza poem that is separated into sets of six lines or sestets. The lines follow a specific rhyme scheme, conforming to a pattern of AABBAA DDEEAA, alternating end sounds as the poem progresses.
There is one part of the rhyme scheme that is particularly important to note, and that is the repetition of the two ending words “day” and “say.” These two words end the first two lines of the poem, as well as the last two lines of each stanza.
They are a unifying element that helps to carry the narrative forward as well as give structure and a sense of familiarity to the piece as a whole. In regards to the meter, the majority of the lines contain eight syllables, but a select few have only seven. This also helps with the consistency of the text.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that there is a magic word his grandmother taught him and others. It is “Bazonka” and it is responsible for a number of strange happenings. It can cure the flu and keep one’s elbows out of glue.
At the same time that it helps people, there are instances in which one should refrain from saying it. The speaker goes through these and then moves into the story of Tiny Tim who used the word every day. In the conclusion of the poem, the speaker describes how the folk who live around him support saying the word at 2:30 AM while standing on one’s head.
You can read the full poem here.
Repetition and Refrains
Another technique Milligan uses is repetition. It occurs within all parts of the poem but most prominently in the use of two different refrains. The first of these ends the first and second stanzas. The phrase, “(That’s what my grandma used to say),” is written in parens both times.
In the third and fourth stanzas there is a different refrain, it is “Just like my grandma used to say!” The difference between these two is interesting. The first is added as if the speaker is trying to hedge his bet. He wants to put most of the weight of the word “Bazonka” on his grandmother. He seems a little embarrassed about it, or shy about the part he plays in the story.
The second refrain is much more confident. There are no parens and the line ends with an exclamation point. In these lines, it is as if the speaker is proud of his grandmother and the good they have done with the word.
Analysis of Bazonka
Say Bazonka every day
That’s what my grandma used to say
So say Bazonka every day
(That’s what my grandma used to say)
In the first stanza of ‘Bazonka’ the speaker introduces the word “Bazonka.” The word is one of Milligan’s own creations and within the text, his speaker states that it was something that his “grandma used to say.”
It takes the majority of the poem for the reader to come to any even vague conclusion about what this word is supposed to mean. Just within the first two stanzas it takes on a number of connotations and is used to reference a variety of situations.
First, the speaker states that his grandmother believed that the “Asian Flu” was kept at bay by saying the word “Bazonka.” It has the power to change the physical world, or so the grandmother thought. One could evoke the magic held inside “Bazonka” and rid themselves of this sickness or keep one’s elbow free from “glue.”
This is just as interesting of a situation as the first. It likely applies more to a child than to an adult. Perhaps the grandmother and speaker were considering the messes a child might get into. Or, alternatively, perhaps it has something to do with the phrase “up to your elbows.” Saying the word might keep one out of trouble, with the glue representing that trouble one sinks deeper and deeper into.
Above all else, the grandmother wants the speaker to say “Bazonka” every day. He makes sure to add in parens at the end of the first stanza that these are all things his grandmother said. He doesn’t necessarily believe them, although his enthusiasm while explaining them might allude to some slight belief.
Don’t say it if your socks are dry!
(That’s what my grandma used to say)
The second stanza contains a number of statements that outline when one should and should not say “Bazonka.” As it turns out, there are times when the word is inappropriate to use. One of these is when “your socks are dry.” Another, “when the sun is in your eye!” The speaker does not give a reason for this. Perhaps the individual situations clash with the word, creating something worse than the sun in one’s eye. There is a bit of mystery here.
In the next lines, he states that if one says it in the dark, which one shouldn’t, then it will “emit… a spark.” The only time one should say the word is in the day. Therefore the spark will not occur, or perhaps it always occurs, and in the light, it’s not bothersome as it would be otherwise. The stanza ends just as the first one did, with the phrase “(That’s what my grandma used to say).”
Young Tiny Tim took her advice
Just like my grandma used to say.
The third stanza gives the speaker an example of one person who used the phrase. This was “Tiny Tim.” It is impossible not to connect this Tiny Tim to the Tim that features in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The name is widely known, therefore the association was likely purposeful on Milligan’s part.
This person “said it once, he said it twice / he said it till the day he died. It was his goal to follow the grandmother’s advice and utilize the power of the word to the very end. Then, as the poem states, beyond. He attempted to say it “even after” he died. To the grandmother, this person would’ve been the perfect disciple of “Bazonka.” The stanza ends with a new refrain that is similar to the last, “Just like my grandma used to say!”
Now folks around declare it’s true
Just like my grandma used to say!
In the final stanza, the speaker summarizes what he knows about the word. It also becomes clear that there are more than just the speaker, the grandmother, and Tiny Tim who know about the word. There are “folks around” who think and share their opinions about it. They think that “every night at half past two” one should stand on their head and “shout Bazonka!”
If this is done, then the word will be heard “clear as day” just like the speaker’s grandmother used to say it.