Tag Archives: Edward Lear

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Terese Coe, ‘The Bumbly’ (after Edward Lear)

He ran the State in a daze, he did,
In a daze he ran the State:
In spite of howls and obnoxious jeers
And those who said it would end in tears
In a daze he ran the State!
And when the daze became a rout
That turned the country inside out
The Bumbly cried, I’m much too big!
I’m Alpha male, I’m never-fail,
the biggest gig and vig!
In a daze I’ll run the State!

So vast and vain, so vast and vain
Is the bog where the Bumbly brays;
His face is green, to think a strain,
And he ran the State in a daze.

He carried on in a daze, he did,
In a daze he carried on,
With carrion eaters on his staff,
Perpetual sneers and snickery laughs,
And predators stalking prey;
And though they said they’d legislate
They knew too little and much too late,
And worse, they could not stand up straight!
For in their skin was a powerful hate
That chewed them up till dawn.
So vast and vain, so vast and vain
Is the bog where the Bumbly brays;
His face is green, to think a strain,
And he ran the State in a daze.

And while he ran the State, he did,
And flew far over the seas
He incurred great debt and was bought by a bro
With a host of spies and some quid pro quo
And a hive of slithery sleaze.
And he bought a city or two, and some laws,
And when he was fitted with monkey claws
His climbed a tree, shrieked Chee-chee-chee!
And his arms reached down to his knees.
So vast and vain, so vast and vain
Is the bog where the Bumbly brays;
His face is green, to think a strain,
And he ran the State in a daze.

In twenty years they all were dead,
In twenty years or less,
And the people said How good they’re gone!
For they’d been through the muck of the Swamp-a-Thon,
And the dung of Fakery Cess.
And they feasted and drank at the Bumbly grave
With homemade wine and a weeklong rave,
And everyone sang, We shall live in chalets!
If only we live! We’ll attack and raze
The ruins of Fakery Cess!

So vast and vain, so vast and vain
Is the bog where the Bumbly brayed;
His face was green, to think a strain,
And he ran the State in a daze.

Terese Coe writes: “Writing this was more fun than I can say!”

Terese Coe’s poems and translations have appeared in Agenda, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Cincinnati Review, The Moth, New American Writing, New Writing Scotland, Ploughshares, Poetry, Poetry Review, The Stinging Fly, Threepenny Review, and the TLS, among many other journals. Her collection Shot Silk was listed for the 2017 Poets Prize. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terese_Coe

‘The Bumbly’ was first published in Xavier Review, 2019. Her ‘Apology From Fiji’ appeared in the Potcake Chapbook ‘Tourists and Cannibals’ from Sampson Low Publishers.

Evocative Fragments: Edward Lear

When awful darkness and silence reign
Over the great Gromboolian plain,
Through the long, long wintry nights; —
When the angry breakers roar
As they beat on the rocky shore; —
When Storm-clouds brood on the towering heights
Of the Hills of the Chankly Bore: —

Then, through the vast and gloomy dark,
There moves what seems a fiery spark,
A lonely spark with silvery rays
Piercing the coal-black night, —
A Meteor strange and bright: —
Hither and thither the vision strays,
A single lurid light.

It is, of course, the Dong With a Luminous Nose, wandering crazed through the forests seeking the Jumblie Girl he fell in love with. Edward Lear’s verse is known for its frivolous characters, actions and names, and his scribbly little drawings. But ignore the drawing and note the skill and control, the emotional pull, of the two stanzas above (even if he does sabotage them with words like “Gromboolian”). Similarly he was a remarkable artist when he wanted to be: one of the world’s great ornithological painters, a wonderful landscape artist, and well-enough respected to have given Queen Victoria a dozen lessons in drawing and watercolours in 1846.

Nonsense poetry in itself is a wonderful way to introduce children to literature, if it is handled as skilfully and, yes, emotionally as Lear does with his nonsense poems of travel, romance, heartbreak, and finding (or failing to find) lasting happiness.

Poem: “Bee”

“July Honey Bee” by MattX27 
Through the honeyed halls of Autumn
Hums the angry ageing bee;
As its work faces fruition,
And its life, redundancy.

This little poem was originally published in Candelabrum, a 1970 formalist hold-out that ran for forty years in the UK under Leonard McCarthy. More recently, it was just republished in Jerome Betts’ latest Lighten-Up Online.

Epigrammatic couplets and quatrains, being rhyme- and stress-based, are common throughout Indo-European languages. They hold the same natural place that haiku, senryu and tanka have in syllable-counting Japanese. It is easier to learn by heart a poem whose form uses the natural strengths of the language, rather than something written in a language-inappropriate form.

Similarly, when reading a poem in translation, you get the ideas and the imagery but you normally lose the enhancement of mood caused by the metre, the rhythm of the verse, as well as by the rhyme. So ideas and imagery alone give you prose, not poetry.

Consider the differences in tone of gravity or levity set by rhythm in these opening lines (and you need to read them aloud–in your head if you can do that, otherwise really aloud, in order to hear the rhythm, the beat of the lines):

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky...

I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three...

On the top of the Crumpetty Tree
The Quangle Wangle sat...

The first is meditative, the second full of action, the third is casual, informal… and those moods are set by the rhythm alone.

Metre is an essential component of English poetry. Make the metre-rule your yardstick. Don’t leave home without it.

Limerick: On a Hopeless Romantic


Like Jesus, she felt God-forsaken,
like Joan of Arc, wanted a stake in
     a life full of meaning,
     a life undemeaning—
like Jung, she was simply myth-taken.

This limerick was originally published in Light. As far as I remember, I didn’t have anyone in mind when writing it, it was done for the pure wordplay of the rhythm and rhyme, the repetition of the J-names in the long lines and the near-identical nature of the short lines, and of course the final pun.

Formal verse covers a lot of territory from limericks at one extreme to Paradise Lost at the other. Personally, I’ll take Lear over Milton any day.