Lear's limericks

Edward Lear's nonsense works are distinguished by a facility of verbal invention and a poet's delight in the sounds of words, both real and imaginary. A stuffed rhinoceros becomes a "diaphanous doorscraper". A "blue Boss-Woss" plunges into "a perpendicular, spicular, orbicular, quadrangular, circular depth of soft mud". His heroes are Quangle-Wangles, Pobbles, and Jumblies. His most famous piece of verbal invention occurs in the closing lines of The Owl and the Pussycat:

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.

The "runcible spoon", a Lear neologism, entered the language and is now found in many English dictionaries.

Limericks are invariably typeset as five lines today, but Edward Lear's limericks were published in a variety of formats. It appears that Lear wrote them in manuscript basically in as many lines as there was room for beneath the picture. In the first three editions, most are typeset as, respectively, three, five, and three lines. The cover of one edition [1] bears an entire limerick typeset in only two lines, thus:

There was an Old Derry down Derry, who loved to see little folks merry;

So he made them a book, and with laughter they shook at the fun of that Derry down Derry.

In Lear's limericks the first and last lines usually end with the same word, rather than rhyming.

For the most part, they are truly nonsensical and devoid of any punch line or point; there is nothing in them to "get". They are completely free of the off-colour humour with which the verse form is now associated.

A typical thematic element is the presence of a callous and critical "they". An example of a typical Lear limerick:

There was an Old Man of A˘sta,

Who possessed a large Cow, but he lost her;

But they said, 'Don't you see,

she has rushed up a tree?

You invidious Old Man of A˘sta!'

Among Lear's tremble-bembles and the chippy-wippy-sikki-tees can be found some very felicitous turns of phrase. Lear's self-portrait in verse, How Pleasant to know Mr. Lear, closes with this stanza, a pleasant reference to his own mortality:

He reads but he cannot speak Spanish,

He cannot abide ginger-beer;

Ere the days of his pilgrimage vanish,

How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!

Edward Lear self portrait, illustrating a real incident in which he encountered a stranger who claimed that "Edward Lear" was merely a pseudonym. Lear (on the right) is showing the stranger (left) the inside of his hat, with his name in the lining.

Edward Lear self portrait, illustrating a real incident in which he encountered a stranger who claimed that "Edward Lear" was merely a pseudonym. Lear (on the right) is showing the stranger (left) the inside of his hat, with his name in the lining.

[edit] Works

  • Illustrations of the Family of the PsittacidŠ (1832)
  • Tortoises, Terrapins, and Turtles by J.E. Gray
  • Views in Rome and its Environs (1841)
  • Gleanings from the Menagerie at Knowsley Hall (1846)
  • Illustrated Excursions in Italy (1846)
  • Book of Nonsense (1846)
  • Journal of a Landscape Painter in Greece and Albania (1851)
  • Journal of a Landscape Painter in Southern Albania (1852)
  • Book of Nonsense and More Nonsense (1862)
  • Views in the Seven Ionian Isles (1863)
  • Journal of a Landscape Painter in Corsica (1870)
  • Nonsense Songs and Stories (1871)
  • More Nonsense Songs, Pictures, etc. (1872)
  • Laughable Lyrics (1877)
  • Nonsense Alphabets
  • Nonsense Botany (1888)
  • Tennyson's Poems, illustrated by Lear (1889)
  • Facsimile of a Nonsense Alphabet (1849, but not published until 1926)
  • The Scroobious Pip, unfinished at his death, but completed by Ogden Nash and illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert (1968)
  • The Quangle-Wangle's Hat (unknown)

Others

  • Edward Lear's Parrots by Brian Reade, Duckworth (1949), including 12 coloured plates reproduced from Lear's Psittacidae
  • The 1970 Saturday morning cartoon Tomfoolery, based on the works of Lear and Lewis Carroll

References

  1. ^ Lear, Edward (1894). "Introduction", More Nonsense Pictures, Rhymes, Botany, etc.. 

External links

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