102. Colin: Shepard Tonie

My first exposure to the term “nonny” was Emma Thompson uttering the phrase to begin Kenneth Branagh’s film “Much Ado About Nothing.” The phrase sticks in my mind, though, because the Violent Femmes put Tonie’s poem to music. Play it to your students if you want to seem “hip” (or use “hep” if you want to seem hip to hip), in part because your students have probably never heard The Violent Femmes and the acoustic strum is pretty raw.

I have seen the author’s name as “The Shepard Tonie” making it unclear to me if Shepard is a name or position. In typing “Shepherd Tonie” into Wikipedia it redircts to “Anthony Munday”, a dramatist who worked with Shakespeare. I am sure there is a definitive answer, but I don’t have it.

The term “nonny” is a made-up word signifying frivolity. Musically, it is like “yeah, yeah, yeah” as used by the early Beatles. The most common reference you might find is for Shakespeare’s play “Much Ado About Nothing” (Act 2, Scene 3), but I refer to Tonie because the band Violent Femmes did a cover of it. And, everyone does Shakespeare.

Third, this poem is a bit racy, and may be inappropriate for many middle school children. In fact, a rarely used meaning of “nonny” according to the Oxford English Dictionary refers to a woman’s private parts, but some posters see this meaning as created by overzealous symbolism speculators. But the topic is worth of discussion, if your students can handle it without sniggering. It is a great entry into desire and, more important, the idea of the ideal and our imagination (dreams!) vs. the reality before us. With YA literature being what it is these days, Tonie can provide an excellent entry into a discussion on the appropriateness of love, lust, desire and their age level. Or, use it in health class!

Shepard Tonie

Beauty sat bathing by a spring
Where fairest shades did hide her;
The winds blew calm, the birds did sing,
The cool streams ran beside her.

My wanton thoughts enticed mine eye
To see what was forbidden:
But better memory said, fie!
So vain desire was chidden:–
Hey nonny nonny O!
Hey nonny nonny!

Into a slumber then I fell,
When fond imagination
Seemed to see, but could not tell
Her feature or her fashion.
But ev’n as babes in dreams do smile,
And sometimes fall a-weeping,
So I awaked as wise this while
As when I fell a-sleeping:–
Hey nonny nonny O!
Hey nonny nonny!


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