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The Dong with a Luminous Nose -- Edward Lear

Deftly merging two themes...
(Poem #628) The Dong with a Luminous Nose
 When awful darkness and silence reign
 Over the great Gromboolian plain,
 Through the long, long wintry nights;
 When the angry breakers roar,
 As they beat on the rocky shore;
 When Storm-clouds brood on the towering heights
 Of the Hills on the Chankly Bore:

 Then, through the vast and gloomy dark,
 There moves what seems a fiery spark,
 A lonely spark with silvery rays
 Piercing the coal-black night,
 A meteor strange and bright:
 Hither and thither the vision strays,
 A single lurid light.

 Slowly it wanders - pauses - creeps -
 Anon it sparkles - flashes and leaps;
 And ever as onward it gleaming goes
 A light on the Bong-tree stem it throws.
 And those who watch at that midnight hour
 From Hall or Terrace, or lofty Tower,
 Cry, as the wild light passes along,
 "The Dong! - the Dong!
 The wandering Dong through the forest goes!
 The Dong! the Dong!
 The Dong with a luminous Nose!"

 Long years ago
 The Dong was happy and gay,
 Till he fell in love with a Jumbly Girl
 Who came to those shores one day.
 For the Jumblies came in a Sieve, they did -
 Landing at eve near the Zemmery Fidd
 Where the Oblong Oysters grow,
 And the rocks are smooth and gray.
 And all the woods and the valleys rang
 With the Chorus they daily and nightly sang -

 "Far and few, far and few,
 Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
 Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
 And they went to sea in a Sieve."

 Happily, happily passed those days!
 While the cheerful Jumblies staid;
 They danced in circlets all night long,
 To the plaintive pipe of the lively Dong,
 In moonlight, shine, or shade.
 For day and night he was always there
 By the side of the Jumbly Girl so fair,
 With her sky-blue hands, and her sea-green hair.
 Till the morning came of that fateful day
 When the Jumblies sailed in their Sieve away,
 And the Dong was left on the cruel shore
 Gazing - gazing for evermore -
 Ever keeping his weary eyes on
 That pea-green sail on the far horizon -
 Singing the Jumbly Chorus still
 As he sat all day on the grass hill -

 "Far and few, far and few,
 Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
 Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
 And they went to sea in a Sieve."

 But when the sun was low in the West,
 The Dong arose and said,
 "What little sense I once possessed
 Has quite gone out of my head!"
 And since that day he wanders still
 By lake and forest, marsh and hill,
 Singing - "O somewhere, in valley or plain
 Might I find my Jumbly Girl again!
 For ever I'll seek by lake and shore
 Till I find my Jumbly Girl once more!"
 Playing a pipe with silvery squeaks,
 Since then his Jumbly Girl he seeks,
 And because by night he could not see,
 He gathered the bark of the Twangum Tree
 On the flowery plain that grows.
 And he wove him a wondrous Nose,
 A Nose as strange as a Nose could be!
 Of vast proportions and painted red,
 And tied with cords to the back of his head.
 - In a hollow rounded space it ended
 With a luminous lamp within suspended,
 All fenced about
 With a bandage stout
 To prevent the wind from blowing it out;
 And with holes all round to send the light,
 In gleaming rays on the dismal night.

 And now each night, and all night long,
 Over those plains still roams the Dong!
 And above the wail of the Chimp and Snipe
 You may hear the wail of his plaintive pipe,
 While ever he seeks, but seeks in vain,
 To meet with his Jumbly Girl again;
 Lonely and wild - all night he goes -
 The Dong with a luminous Nose!
 And all who watch at the midnight hour,
 From Hall or Terrace, or Lofty Tower,
 Cry, as they trace the Meteor bright,
 Moving along through the dreary night,
 "This is the hour when forth he goes,
 The Dong with the luminous Nose!
 Yonder - over the plain he goes;
 He goes;
 He goes!
 The Dong with a luminous Nose!"
-- Edward Lear
Mysterious, surreal, deeply tinged with melancholy - "The Dong with a
Luminous Nose" embodies many of the themes that characterize Lear's longer
work. It's also more than a little reminiscent [1] of Yeats' magnificent
"Song of Wandering Aengus" [2] in its, errm, 'plot', and of the dream poems
that Martin has been running of late, in its twilit atmosphere.

Questions of theme apart, notice how "The Dong" shares with Hope's "Reverie
of Mahomed Akram" (yesterday's poem) a highly idiosyncratic use of rhyme and
metre: as is the case with the Hope poem, the irregularity contributes
greatly to the overall dreamy effect. Once again, it's a tribute to the
poet's prosodic skill that this difficult task is pulled off without a hint
of awkwardness or artificiality.


[1] 'Reminiscent' is probably not the best choice of word, given that Lear's
poem predates Yeats' by at least 30 years (though I don't have the exact
dates to hand).

[2] poem #1 - yes, the very
first poem ever run on the Minstrels.

[Someone Else's Commentary]

[Lear's] songs are not as nonsensical as his limericks, and have often been
interpreted as the reductio ad absurdum of Romantic poetry. By Bowra (The
Romantic Imagination, 1950, p. 279), for example:

"He differs from his models not in his means but in his end. He wished to
write nonsense, and with the insight of genius saw that the romantic
technique was perfectly suited to it. With him the romantic indefiniteness
passes beautifully into absurdity, and his own inchoate sorrows vanish in
the divine light of nonsense."

Hugh Kenner (A Homemade World, 1975, p. 70) emphasizes the escapism implicit
in such a practice:

"Tennyson's friend Edward Lear at length perceived that the safest course
for poetry, since its ligatures with phenomena were causing it so much
trouble, was to shut itself up completely in its own cocoon of suggestion."

This is especially evident in poems such as The Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò, which
tells the story of an unrequited love, and The Dong with a Luminous Nose,
clearly about feelings of solitude; these are usually considered reflections
of Lear's personal condition.

        -- Marco Graziosi, [broken link]


Other Lear poems:

"The Owl and the Pussycat" is one of _the_ masterpieces of nonsense verse:
poem #165. (There's a Lear biography attached to the commentary
accompanying this poem).

Lear more or less invented the limerick as we know it; "There was an Old Man
with a Beard" is a good example of his pioneering work: poem #378

"The Pobble Who Has No Toes" cuts just as melancholy a figure as the
unfortunate Dong: poem #297

"The Akond of Swat" is hilarious in its progressively-increasing flights of
absurdity: poem #356

Previous poems in the Nose theme:

"The Sniffle", by Ogden Nash: poem #625

Cyrano's speech, "Twenty Ways to Insult a Nose", by Edmond Rostand: poem #626

Previous poems in the Dream theme:

"The Ice-Cart", by Wilfred Gibson: poem #622

"Reverie of Mahomed Akram at the Tamarind Tank", by Laurence Hope (Adela
Nicolson): poem #627

More about the wandering Jumblies (including a reference to their sojourn in
the Hills of the Chankly Bore) can be found in Lear's poem titled (you
guessed it) "The Jumblies", which you can read at
[broken link]

Incidentally, the stanza
 "Far and few, far and few,
 Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
 Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
 And they went to sea in a Sieve."
(within quotes in today's poem) appears as a refrain in "The Jumblies".

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