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The Owl and the Pussy-Cat -- Edward Lear

       
(Poem #165) The Owl and the Pussy-Cat
The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
    In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
    Wrapped up in a five pound-note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
    And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are,
            You are,
            You are!
    What a beautiful Pussy you are.'

Pussy said to the Owl, 'You elegant fowl,
    How charmingly sweet you sing.
O let us be married, too long have we tarried,
    But what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away for a year and a day,
    To the land where the Bong-tree grows,
And there in the wood a Piggy-wig stood,
    With a ring in the end of his nose,
            His nose,
            His nose!
    With a ring in the end of his nose.

'Dear Pig, are you willing, to sell for one shilling
    Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day,
    By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
    Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
    They danced by the light of the moon,
            The moon,
            The moon!
    They danced by the light of the moon.
-- Edward Lear
The canonical example of the nonsense poem, and one that should be
instantly familiar.

Although other poets had attempted nonsense verse before Edward Lear,
his poetry really defined the genre. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect
of his work is the way the incongruity remains fresh no matter how many
times you read it... it's not that easy at all to write nonsense that
sticks in the mind :-)

I'm not really sure whether I should even bother commenting about the
today's poem as a poem - after all, it's not meant to have any meaning
or deeper significance [1]. But I will make one comment on structure:
note how utterly _simple_ the versification is; always engaging, always
musical, yet never complex enough to distract attention from the
'action', as it were. Again, this makes Lear's accomplishment all the
more remarkable - he has to create his nonsensical effect without
resorting to any sort of gobbledygook or jargon (T S Eliot, are you
listening?).

thomas.

[1] though that hasn't prevented countless analyses of Freudian
undertones, hallucinogenic overtones and the like.

Surprisingly enough, there aren't a whole lot of Lear sites out there;
this one's the best I could find:
[broken link] http://www2.pair.com/mgraz/Lear/index.html

[Trivia]

This poem is the source of that most lovely word, 'runcible':

Main Entry: runcible spoon
Pronunciation: 'r&n(t)-s&-b&l-
Function: noun
Etymology: coined with an obscure meaning by Edward Lear
Date: 1871
: a sharp-edged fork with three broad curved prongs
        -- Merriam-Webster

Now there's immortality for you!

[Biography]

   b. May 12, 1812, Highgate, near London
   d. Jan. 29, 1888, San Remo, Italy

English landscape painter who is more widely known as the writer of an
original kind of nonsense verse and as the popularizer of the limerick.
His true genius is apparent in his nonsense poems, which portray a world
of fantastic creatures in nonsense words and show a Tennysonian feeling
for word colour, variety of rhythm, and often a deep underlying sense of
melancholy. Their quality is matched, especially in the limericks, by
that of his engaging pen-and-ink drawings.

The youngest of 21 children, he was brought up by his eldest sister,
Ann, and from the age of 15 earned his living by drawing. He
subsequently worked for the British Museum, made drawings of birds for
John Gould, a zoologist, and, during 1832-37, made illustrations of the
Earl of Derby's private menagerie at Knowsley, Lancashire. Lear had a
natural affinity for children, and it was for the earl's grandchildren
that he produced his first Book of Nonsense (1846, enlarged 1861, 1863).
In 1835 he decided to become a topographical landscape painter.

Lear, a homosexual, suffered all his life from epilepsy and melancholia.
After 1837 he lived mainly abroad. Though naturally timid, he was a
constant and intrepid traveler, exploring Italy, Greece, Albania,
Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and, later, India and Ceylon. An indefatigable
worker, he produced innumerable pen and watercolour sketches of great
topographical accuracy. He worked these up into the carefully finished
watercolours and large oil paintings, showing Pre-Raphaelite influence,
that were his financial mainstay. During his nomadic life he lived,
among other places, at Rome, Corfu, and, finally, with his celebrated
cat "Foss," at San Remo.

Lear published three volumes of bird and animal drawings; seven
illustrated travel books (notably Journal of a Landscape Painter in
Greece and Albania, 1851); and four books of nonsense--The Book of
Nonsense mentioned earlier, Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and
Alphabets (1871), More Nonsense, Pictures, Rhymes, Botany, etc. (1872),
and Laughable Lyrics (1877). A posthumous collection, Queery Leary
Nonsense (1911), was compiled by Lady Strachey.

19 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Jlucia118 said...

cannot move to the end of the poem! its stuck!

Ann Messer said...

Pretty good, I like it

Jake Krakovsky said...

Great stuff!
Just though I'd give you a link to another good Lear
shttp://www.bencourtney.com/ebooks/lear/index.html
THanks for the great resource.

Anonymous said...

We're going to go to sleep together really soon and snuggle some more. Is that all right?

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Marvyn said...

im adapting this poem into a short film at the moment, please check out the facebook page and give it a like :D

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Owl-and-the-Pussycat/272659356125377

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