As a child, I always enjoyed this poem. I enjoyed the silliness of it, the musical rhythm and the sense of Fantasy.
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,
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,
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,
They danced by the light of the moon.
I must confess, though, that I hadn’t thought about this poem for many years until a friend quoted it in her newly-released paranormal romance novel. Having read and reviewed the book, it left me pondering the poem.
In the poet’s Victorian setting it was classified as nonsense poetry, a bit of whimsy and silliness for the entertainment of children.
I do wonder now, though, if there is a hint of rebellion against Victorian society’s moral and class standards in the unlikely union of those two mismatched creatures, and if that’s why they had to go away to be together. It could just be my 21st century sensitivities talking, but I’d like to think that maybe, back in the late 1860s, Lear was sending a subtle message to the morality police of the time that if two people were in love, they should be able to be together.
I know people accuse English teachers of overthinking these things all the time, but just stop and think about it for a moment.
The owl and the pussycat weren’t supposed to be together, but they were quite free in expressing their feelings for one another and very happy together. Which of the two is male, and which is female? Or are they really even one of each? They do seem remarkably neutral in that regard, especially if you think of the strict gender stereotypes apparent in other Victorian literature such as that by Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope and the Brontes.
It is just a curious thought, and I don’t want to shatter anyone’s enjoyment of a much-loved children’s poem. Maybe it is just whimsical make-believe. Maybe it’s not. We will never know.
But it’s also a possibility that there are a whole bunch of people out there who might appreciate this poem a whole lot more on consideration of my uncommon little theory. Oh, I hope so!
4 thoughts on “Poem: ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ by Edward Lear”
I’ve always loved this poem as well, and I agree with your theory. Thanks for sharing both.