Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Man Named Lear

"..Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It's based on a novel by a man named Lear
And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer..."

I have to admit, when anyone mentions the inimitable Edward Lear, the above song is the first thing I think of, so that's why it's the opening for my response to Kerry's challenge at Real Toads on this versatile and surprising man whose birthday falls in May. As an inventor of amusingly surreal figurative language in his popular nonsense rhymes for children, often inset with his own quirky drawings, Lear was a big influence on John Lennon, among many others.

Lear also legitimatized and popularized the limerick, so  I started out with one of those:


There once was an author of silly
who dressed up as a thoroughbred filly
in a mauve feathered hat.
He liked it like that,
but for racing a dress was too frilly.

Yes, well...moving on.....

I also learned from Kerry's article that Lear was a landscape painter and illustrator, and she suggested we might write something inspired by his visual art, so here is my moderately nonsensical response to that:

The Anthropomorphic Imperative

'I believe, old boy,' I heard Parrot say
to Tortoise, 'it was yesterday
as you were artfully, amphibiously
pontificating in a pondmud sea,
that you stated it wasn't faith, in fountains,
but bitching that moved mountains?'

Tortoise lifted his leathery head,
he swallowed twice, Oh, yes,' he said,
'I'm sure the stars are nagging the moon,
and the moon yells the sun up to every noon
for without the blessed safety of blame,
who would leave its shell, or know its name?'

Parrot looked down from his monocle-tree,
'Respectfully, sir, I must disagree.
As a bird, I may know only one thing
and that is I don't know anything,
but whenever I squawk in a cave of swallows,
a confusion of shadows bursts up from the hollows.

When the May wind finally decides to blow
  tulips throw petals like coloured snow,
green rain dances sideways. I've come to see
 that where we are stranded luminously,
perilously, between earth and sky,
  everything living decides to fly...'

~May 2013

 posted for   real toads
Weekend Challenge: Edward Lear
 Kerry O'Connor discusses the work of English author, painter, illustrator and poet Edward Lear, and challenges us to deal with his nonsense. I've cast the tortoise in a rather negative role here, tho I'm actually quite fond of them--but someone has to be the heavy.

Images by Edward Lear, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


  1. This is simply wonderful, Joy. I love that you used the Beatles song. There was something humming in the back of my mind but I had no idea what it was, so I went with what I had.
    Your limerick is delightful, but I love your anthropomorphism, especially the first four lines of it. "amphibiously pontificating" cracked me up, until I thought of the giant tortoises I met in the Galapagos Islands. Some of the individuals are ancient, but at least one of the species is extinct.

  2. ha. love your fantastical tale hedge...rather funny...i think i know a few that think they can move mountains by contrasts nicely with parrots humility in not knowing anything as well...smiles. fun verse...

  3. This is just wonderful, Hedge. It may be nonsense rhyme so to speak, but your parrot and tortoise tale has a profound lesson. I thought the final stanza was inspired, and such a well-delivered poem deserves a most sincere round of applause.

  4. Very clever - Very wise - I never associated Lear with Paperback Writer - crazy. I like the frilly filly and of course, the other has much to chew on. I gave in - I have been working on other things and also a fair amount of yard work with one of my daughters -

    But your last rises above silly - agree with Kerry re last stanza especially - the sideways rain and the tulips blowing, and what all beings strive for. k.

    1. Well, I was madly in love with John Lennon, and knew all his favorite things, one of which was Lear--and as a writer, you have to love this song--it so nails a certain flashy type. Glad to hear you feel you have tended to your flocks of words enough that you can come out and play with us. Thanks, as always, for reading.

    2. I wanted to say there are great luminous phrases here - the rain and tulips and shouting up the noon - but great little details that give the piece a kind of depth and texture - the monocle tree and the pondmud sea, the interior rhyming amphibiously and perilously, luminously, -- all those latinate phrases which are used in an exacting way but sort of mocked - and the cave of swallows becoming shadows - great sound and imagery - but my point is that these details are interwoven in a way that they are not necessarily the eyecatchers but really do embroider the piece with a great richness, like the details/cross-hatching that gives dimension to an engraving. k.

    3. Thanks so much, karin. This was free verse originally, but it just didn't feel right, so I began rhyming it, and it led to a lot of those little embellishments, as form often does for me. I enjoyed your Pearl and Clam opera-linguini-fest very much...especially the Lear-y drawings--drawing a clam has got to be a challenge.

  5. Fun to read these! I think you got the limerick form down well. You inspire me.

  6. This is great. I will be back in the morning to say more. :-)

  7. Joy, I was thinking immediately about the Beatles as well, and John Lennon's famous "In His Own Write," (especially "Arf! Arf!" the little dog Nigel. It's sick but it's funny!)

    I had no idea Lear was also an artist. Amazing. As for your poem, such fun, and I also enjoyed the wordplay, "wordvention" is what I call it, and the practice makes one "wordventurous"!

    The first made me giggle, the second really challenged my imagination. Great work, Hedge! Amy

    1. Ah, yes! Not to mention Partly Dave, and Frank, who had no flies on him. And a Spaniard In The Works--wonderful books and definitely Lear inspired. Thanks, Amy.


  8. You are so talented at tackling several of his writing styles! I don't recall that gorgeous image of a tortoise!

  9. This is a delight but the last four lines are inspired. Isn't that just the truth of our state?

  10. That opening stanza is a feast of delight, imnvho. "artfully, amphibiously
    pontificating in a pondmud sea,"? Get out. That is simultaneously great fun and extremely nicely crafted. Then the capper, about bitching moving the world....don't let STW see that, she'll put it on her wall. :-P

    The entire thing captures the old timey, conversational feel you were clearly going for, and the interchanges the "animals" have are pitch-perfect.

    Finally, I think I may have found a soul mate in the know-nothing bird!

  11. Wow, so comprehensive! You've met with him at every point. Great post!

  12. This was wonderful, hedgewitch. Fanciful and a perfect ode to Lear. I'm sure he is grinning :)

  13. This is wonderful, you trully havea gift for the enchanted!

  14. Oh my gosh you started it out with one of my favorite Beatles song! The limerick was so much fun, but The Anthropomorphic Imperative is outstanding! Love the ending...everything living decides to fly.

  15. Joy Ann, the limerick is delightful and I love second poem. Wonderful conversation between the parrot and the tortoise. Your phrasing is a spot on.


  16. I am just so in awe. The silliness, the story telling, the word play are all captivating. The fact he influenced the Beetles is just. so. cool! Thanks for that bit of info and the song (which I don't think I've ever heard before ;(

  17. These animal voices and the places they inhabit come through with wisdom-clarity. You take silly and throw in a philosophy curve-ball. I am esp. fond of your closing in Anthropomorphic Imperative. your limerick is wonderfully picturesque. Certainly, Lear is holding his hat and bowing low.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

Comment Moderation Has Been Enabled