Saturday, May 19, 2012

THE OWL AND THE PUSSY-CAT

Most people have heard this nice story about the Owl and the Pussy-cat who were in love with each other, and how they sailed away together, and after a while they got married.  The whole story is told in a poem that was written by a man named Edward Lear.  Maybe your mom or dad read this poem to you when you were a child.  Or maybe you read it to your children or grandchildren.  Anyway, in case you forgot exactly how it goes, here it is, along with the drawings that the poet himself made:



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.




Of course, the first thing we need to ask about this story is "What the heck is a runcible spoon?"  And the answer is that runcible doesn't mean anything at all.  It's just a silly word that Mr. Lear made up.  He seemed to like this word quite a bit, because he used it in some of his other poems, too.


Artwork by Stu Ord

Another thing we should ask is why a cat and an owl would be attracted to each other.  In real life, an owl who saw a cat running around might just grab the cat with his big, sharp talons, and then carry the cat off to eat for lunch.  But in stories, just like in life, strange things sometimes happen.



"The Owl and the Pussy-Cat" was written for a 3-year-old girl named Janet Symonds, who was the daughter of the poet John Addington Symonds, who was a friend of Mr. Lear.  The poem was first published in 1871.

Painting by Mark Frudd

Edward Lear never had any children of his own, but he seemed to like writing nonsense verse for other people's children.  Or maybe he just wrote it to entertain himself.  He also wrote limericks, and he made this form of poetry popular.  But mostly, Mr. Lear was an artist.  He traveled around the world, and he painted lots of landscapes.  He didn't quit writing funny verses, though, and he liked making pictures to go with the verses.


Edward Lear's painting of Masada, in Israel

Mr. Lear was born in 1812, in a town called Holloway, which is in Middlesex, in England.  He was the 20th of 21 children, and he was the youngest to survive.  His oldest sister, Ann, who was 21 years older than he was, doted on him and took care of him all his life until she died when Edward was 50 years old.


Edward Lear portrait, by Wilhelm Marstrand

Because he sometimes had seizures, Edward didn't much like going out in public.  He was very ashamed of his condition.  Also, he had bronchitis and asthma.  His first job was with the London Zoological Society, where he made pictures of birds.  Later on, he wrote travel books.  He settled in Sanremo, which is on the Mediterranean coast in northern Italy, and his house was called Villa Tennyson.

Mr. Lear had a bunch of friends and people he wrote letters to.  Also, he had a cat named Foss that he loved very much.  Two different times Mr. Lear proposed to the same woman, who was 46 years younger than he was.  But she turned him down both times.  In 1888, Edward Lear died at his villa.  He had suffered from heart disease since at least 1870.  Sadly, none of his friends could come to his funeral, so it was kind of a lonely affair.


Artwork by Janet Nelson


Today what people mostly remember about Mr. Lear is that he wrote all those funny verses.  He poked fun at a lot of stuff in Victorian society, but even today people can relate to the humor.  And people still seem to like those silly little drawings he did.

1 comment: