Tag Archives: Edward Lear

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.