The Owl and the Pussy-cat



Edward Lear was born in Holloway, London in 1812. His father was a stockbroker and he was brought up largely by his sister Ann. He spent his early years first as a draughtsman for the Zoological Society, then as an artist for the British Museum. In 1832 he was employed by the Earl of Derby to make coloured drawings of the rare birds and animals in the menagerie at Knowsley Hall. The Earl also allowed Lear the means to travel widely. He published accounts of his trips to Italy (1846), Albania and Illyria (1851), Calabria (1852), and Corsica (1870). He also visited the Holy Land and Greece. He is chiefly remembered for his nonsense poetry, the first volume of which was written for his patron's grandchildren in 1846 and was simply entitled A Book of Nonsense. It contained Lear's favourite poetic format, the limerick, and was illustrated throughout. His poetry was henceforth marked by an air of ludicrous fantasy, as well as a unique inventiveness. Since his death in 1888, appreciation of his artistic work, the water-colours in particular, has risen. His real fame, however, was secured by poems from Nonsense Songs (1871) such as 'The Owl and the Pussy-cat' that you can read and listen here.

Edward Lear


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The Owl and the Pussy-cat

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.

Edward Lear


About this poem: Although other poets had attempted nonsense verse before Edward Lear, his poetry really defined the genre. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of his work is the way the incongruity remains fresh no matter how many times you read it. It's not that easy at all to write nonsense that sticks in the mind.
wrapped up
: envuelto (to wrap/wrapped/wrap/wrapping)
fowl: ave
tarried: tardado, demorado
willing: dispuesto
mince: picadillo, carne picada
slices of quince: trozos de membrillo
runcible spoon: especie de tenedor
on the edge: en el borde de


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