The magic of Edward Lear

The 12th of May is the bicentenary of the eccentric genius, Edward Lear, who described himself as the laureate of nonsense. Appropriately, it has been designated as “International Owl and Pussycat Day”. Why the fuss? Well, it isn’t just because The Owl and The Pussycat happens to be one of the greatest poems in the English language. It is something more. Lear’s oeuvre is steeped in a childlike wonder of the universe; his humour is such that in order to appreciate and marvel at the fullness of life, we need, sometimes, to stand back and chortle at life’s absurdities. Perhaps we need this more than ever. As that other great purveyor of humour, Dr Seuss, once said:

 

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient

in living. It’s a way at looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope…that

enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”

 

Lear’s nonsense verse fulfils this; an intrepid voyager he takes us to new worlds, where imagination is boundless. What I think is most eminent about his writing is that it is written with verve, a keen painterly eye and, above all, is permeated with kindness, which shines bright. The Owl and the Pussycat going to sea might appear perfectly illogical but surely it is the most romantic of love poems and one can see why it is firmly ensconced as popular request at weddings etc. The conclusion of the poem never fails to bring a smile to my face as I imagine the incredible dance moves the protagonists execute “on the edge of the sand”.  And this surely is why Lear endures; his way with words always leaves the reader with a smile etched on their face. This isn’t to forget his sketches and paintings either, for he was an equally brilliant artist.

To mark Edward Lear’s 200th birthday, I will dive into his complete Nonsense and become reacquainted with old friends like The Pobble Who Has No Toes, The Quangle Wangle and The Dong with a Luminous Nose. It always feel like a veritable feast.  For your delectation, here’s my take on The Owl and the Pussycat; and, if you can tolerate, here are a few limericks about someone I know, fairly well:

 

There was a mad chap from Wales

who quite often tipped the scales

by donning his hats

trilbies and flat caps

a ridiculous sight in tails

 

There was a mad chap from Wales

who loved to walk out in gales

clad in a poncho

bearing a portmanteau

that peculiar chap from Wales

 

There was a mad chap from Wales

who laughed at minor details

the trifles of life

leavened with spice

means brio always prevails

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