Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Nonsense Words Make Lasting Poetry

I struggled with writing this post about two of our favorite poets that happen to have something in common -- they are both Victorians and they both made sense out of nonsense.  You see, it kept coming out all stodgy and boring and these poets are anything but.  So let's just get to the poetry and these creators of the fantastic!

Edward Lear (1812-1888) traveled extensively through India, Greece and Egypt, suffered from epilepsy and had almost no formal education.  He was a master of the limerick and the nonsense poem.  He was also a very accomplished artist.

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 we have 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 a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at 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.

Lewis Carroll (a.k.a. Charles Dodgson, 1832-1898) stayed at home in England, was deaf in one ear, had a stammer and a "weak chest" and spent years teaching mathematics at Oxford.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought--
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

So what do you think?  Do these poems have a chance in the modern age?  Some of the words have different meanings now (that luckily Z is too young to know) and some of them still have no meaning but does anything sound better than a "frabjous day"?

Reveling in the nonsense,
K and Z


  1. I recently went to see Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" and it was cool to hear Johnny Depp (at the Mad Hatter) recite lines from "The Jabberwocky." It is one of those things that comes alive when it is spoken out loud by someone who knows what they are doing!

  2. I adore jabberwocky!! Thanks for posting!

  3. Jenners - I definitely think that some of the difficulty in the language drops away when you are listening versus reading. And Johnny Depp could read a lawnmower handbook and it would be fascinating. ;)

    Paige - You're very welcome! We love it too!

  4. Wow, this totally made me remember that I used to know The Owl and The Pussy-cat by heart. I loved that poem as a kid.

    And as for the Jabberwocky, as much as Alice is one of my favorites, it gave me nightmares as a kid.

  5. Claudia - I always thought the Jabberwocky was pretty cool but I think I was swayed by the mome raths and borogoves. I wanted to know what they looked like!