May 13, 2022

#08-210: Edward Lear

Lear's "Old Man with a Beard"

Note: Many of us have heard "The Owl and the Pussycat," but the author wrote perhaps hundreds other fun "nonsense" poems.

Get Ready: Do you know any limericks? They often start, "There once was a man from..." and a place name. Recite some if you can!

When it comes to nonsense verse, two 19th-century Englishmen stand out. We'll look at the poems of Lewis Carroll (author of Alice in Wonderland) another time, but today let's read some of the works of his slightly older contemporary, Edward Lear.

His best-known poem is "The Owl and the Pussycat." In the first of its three stanzas, "The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea/In a beautiful pea-green boat," taking with them honey and money. As the Owl looks at the stars, he plays the guitar and sings to the cat, "O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,/What a beautiful Pussy you are!"

In the second verse, "Pussy said to the Owl, 'You elegant fowl!/How charmingly sweet you sing!'" And they decide to get married--but they don't have a ring! So they go "To the land where the Bong-Tree grows" and find a "Piggy-wig.../With a ring at the end of his nose."

Here's the third stanza:

"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.

Perfect nonsense! "Runcible" is not even a word; Lear made it up.

Lear also produced over 200 limericks, five-line poems with a specific meter and rhyme scheme. Here's one of his most famous:

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, 'It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!'

Many of Lear's limericks have a place name at the end of the first line, like this:

There was an Old Person of Chili,
Whose conduct was painful and silly;
⁠He sat on the stairs
⁠Eating apples and pears,
That imprudent Old Person of Chili.

Follow the link below for more fun!


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. elegant
  2. fowl
  3. imprudent
  4. larks and wrens
  5. mince
  6. nonsense
  7. pussy
  8. quince
  9. shilling
  10. stanza

  1. a former coin in the UK, equal to 1/20th of a pound
  2. verse or section of a poem
  3. meat chopped up finely
  4. another word for "cat"
  5. types of songbirds
  6. beautifully simple
  7. a fruit in the apple and pear family, seldom eaten raw but made into jellies
  8. almost any kind of bird
  9. silly talk, often for fun
  10. not careful

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for May 13, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. f; 2. h; 3. j; 4. e; 5. c; 6. i; 7. d; 8. g; 9. a; 10. b