Edward Lear

The Laureate of Nonsense

Poetic Beats

Welcome to this week’s Poetic Beats, with Howard Bond and Davy D, recorded on the 23rd of April 2018 on Red Kite Radio.

Edward Lear was often referred to as the Laureate of Nonsense and famous for turning his travels around the world into limerick form. He wrote poetry as an escape from his main profession as an illustrator and painter of birds and landscapes. He also spent time as Art Master to Queen Victoria, teaching her to draw and paint.

In this episode of Poetic Beats Davy D reads Lear’s poem, The Table And The Chair, which is taken from his second collection, Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets, published in 1871.

If you have difficulty listening to the show a text version of the poem is included after the sound bar.

To hear this recording of Poetic Beats please press the arrow to the left of the sound bar below.

 

 

 

The Table And The Chair

I

Said the Table to the Chair,

‘You can hardly be aware,

‘How I suffer from the heat,

‘And from chilblains on my feet!

‘If we took a little walk,

‘We might have a little talk!

‘Pray let us take the air!’

Said the Table to the Chair.

 

II

Said the Chair unto the Table,

‘Now you know we are not able!

‘How foolishly you talk,

‘When you know we cannot walk!’

Said the Table, with a sigh,

‘It can do no harm to try,

‘I’ve as many legs as you,

‘Why can’t we walk on two?’

 

III

So they both went slowly down,

And walked about the town

With a cheerful bumpy sound,

As they toddled round and round.

And everybody cried,

As they hastened to their side,

‘See! the Table and the Chair

‘Have come out to take the air!’

 

IV

But in going down an alley,

To a castle in a valley,

They completely lost their way,

And wandered all the day,

Till, to see them safely back,

They paid a Ducky-quack,

And a Beetle, and a Mouse,

Who took them to their house.

 

V

Then they whispered to each other,

‘O delightful little brother!

‘What a lovely walk we’ve taken!

‘Let us dine on Beans and Bacon!’

So the Ducky, and the leetle

Browny-Mousy and the Beetle

Dined, and danced upon their heads

Till they toddled to their beds.

 

Edward Lear

 

 

 

 

 

How Do You Read A Poem?

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In 1972 my parents bought me my first poetry book, The Golden Treasury Of Poetry, edited by Louis Untermeyer. For a nine-year-old this was like being given a piece of treasure. Many an evening was spent under the bed clothes reading the many poems by torchlight and being held by the magic of Walt Whitman’s Miracles, becoming the baddie in Alfred Noyes’, The Highwayman, and floating in the madness of Edward Lear’s, The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo. The innocence of childhood allowed me to get lost and become part of the poem.

Forty-five years on, my reading and understanding of poetry has become a little more difficult. Reading glasses come provided with filters of life experience, value and belief systems, norms of culture and society, as well as the pressures and pace of modern day living. The art of reading a poem is very different.

The question of how to read a poem has challenged poets and readers for centuries. Going back nearly two hundred years, poet and literary critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge divided readers into four types.

  1. Moghul Diamonds – the best type and someone who profits by what they read and enables others to profit by it too.
  2. Sandglasses – remember nothing of what they read and just go through a book to get through time.
  3. Strainbags – remember merely the dregs of what they read.
  4. Sponges- absorb all they read and return it in nearly the same state, only a little dirtier.

I can identify as being all of these during my life.  A few years ago, I realised there was a need to get back to the Moghul Diamond stage as the quantity of poetry I was reading had superseded the quality, hence the blog and journey further into the heart of poetry.

Now the reading of a poem goes much deeper than the words and rhyming pattern. It is about the life and background of the poet, the story and emotion behind the poem and spending more time with the poem; living and breathing it to become part of what the writer intended.

In his recent book, The Poetry Pharmacy, William Sieghart gives some good advice about how to read a poem. He suggests not reading the poem like a newspaper and novel, but more like a prayer. Speak it aloud to yourself so you can hear it properly. Take it to bed with you and read it night after night, for at least five nights, remembering that no poem deserves only a single visit.

Just as I was putting together these Thursday Thoughts two of my favourite poets have combined to give me some poetry to test Sieghart’s theories. Roland Keld at Roland’s Ragbag has written an excellent poem, The Meaning of Life, which just lends itself to spending more time with and appreciating the full meaning.

Nigel Smith at Voices of a Hidden Self, has produced an audio version of him reading Roland’s, The Meaning of Life and listening to it brings more depth and meaning to the poem; hearing it read aloud as Sieghart suggests. I will be having more time out this week reading and listening to the  poem and both versions are well worth the time if you can spare it.

What are your thoughts on how a poem should be read? Do you have any tips or habits you use to get more meaning from the poems you read? Please jump in and share them in the comments section. I’d love to read them.

Is Shakespeare Overrated?

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The British actress, Dame Judy Dench, once said “a bad experience of Shakespeare is like a bad oyster – it puts you off for life.”

This, it appears, is the case for me.

Before you all start screaming “PHILISTINE” I would like to put on record Shakespeare is probably the greatest and most influential writer to have graced this planet. The fact his work, 400 years on, is still widely read and performed is testament to his greatness but, despite many hours of reading and studying his work, I can’t warm to it.

At school, lessons involving Shakespeare were torturous – the seagulls on the sports hall roof providing better entertainment. The long-suffering Mrs Davy D, a huge fan of the Bard, has dragged me twice to see performances of Twelfth Night; to no avail the Shakespearian block just won’t lift.

As a child, my early poetic influences centred around the work of Edward Lear, Roald Dahl and Spike Milligan. In teenage years, I had progressed to the more serious work of Dr John Cooper Clarke and Pam Ayres. The onset of a more mature age has taken me to Charles Bukowski, Philip Larkin and a myriad of other poets with a dark slant on life, but still no room for Old Will.

What is it then that determines the kind of poetry and prose we read, enjoy and write?

Is it our upbringing, our early influences, our cultures?

Is it our education, the people we work with, our social groups?

I would be interested in hearing people’s views as I am in a dilemma. A teacher once told me “if you can’t love Shakespeare, then you can’t love poetry.”

The stage is yours, let the throwing of rotting fruit and vegetables commence.

What Inspired Your Love of Poetry?

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When I was 9 years old my parents bought me The Golden Treasury of Poetry by Louis Untermeyer.

The treasury was a selection of more than 400 poems, written through every great period of English Literature, from Chaucer and Shakespeare to Ogden Nash and T.S. Eliot. It became a favourite pet, following me everywhere.  At night- time I would sneak it under the bed covers and read the poems by torchlight till the early hours.

Forty-five years on the book is still with me, in pristine condition, and I am once again enjoying reading childhood favourites like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s, Paul Revere’s Ride and The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo by Edward Lear.

Looking back, it was this book that started my passion for poetry; a love affair that has been like any long-term relationship, full of laughter, tears and long periods where we haven’t spoken.

Over the years I have fallen in and out of love with poetry, and poets too many to mention. I have collected poetry books, gotten rid of them only to buy them again, but this book is the one that has remained in the fold since 1972.

I don’t know why it became a favourite and why it has survived so long. What I do know is it started a love for poetry still burning in me to this day.

What started or inspired your love and passion for poetry? Was it a particular book, poet, poem or situation that lit the fire?

I’d love to hear your stories.