Posted by: Tom Triumph | November 23, 2009

61. The Owl and the Pussycat: Edward Lear

Another from “The 100 Best Love Poems of All Time“, edited by Leslie Pockell. Some things about Lear’s classic.

First, I had never heard of the thing until my friend Claire sent my two year old son a fanciful copy of the book. I later came across an old cassette tape of it being read, which required that I find an old cassette player and turn the tape over ever three minutes. It had a cool Rasta beat behind it, and was read with a Jamaican lilt. Very pleasant.

Second, in watching the Disney classic “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day”, Owl lets drop that he is a relative of this owl. It is an interesting detail the creators threw in, and this adult appreciated it.

Third, this poem demonstrates the creation of the term “runcible spoon”. It makes me sad that in some editions of the poem, another term is used.

I then looked up the poem in Wikipedia and found out plenty of other factoids of no great importance (although I was fascinated that X the Owl and Henrietta Pussycat were inspired by the poem).

Really, any information is a factoid as the poem is nonsense. Good for a laugh, and a great companion to “Jabberwocky”. But, it is also a poem that gets under the skin. Once read, it seems to pop up in the most surprising places. Certain images linger. In many ways, it becomes a classic because of connections with events in my life.

Yet, why is it a classic? Is that enough? When I looked up the text to cut into this blog, it was listed over and over again as a nursery rhyme. Yet, I think of it in a different category (like “Jabberwocky”). What, I ask, is a classic? What makes something “serious” literature and another suitable for children?

A good discussion set up by a very approachable poem.

The Owl and the Pussycat
Edward Lear

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,
“0 lovely Pussy, 0 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!
Oh! 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.

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