In 2004, I wrote my Honours Thesis at the University of Sydney on Edward Lear, and revived and expanded my research as a two-part celebration for the 170th anniversary of the publication of A Book of Nonsense (here and here).
In July 2017, I had the honour of talking with Lish Fejer of ABC Radio Canberra about Lear’s life and work. You can listen to the full interview here.
In honour of the Great Lear, here are my own poems for children (and adults). I hope you enjoy!
The Problem With That Ocelot
The Snowbird & The Fox
“Hello, Snowbird,” said the Fox, “where have been, my dear?”
“I’ve been learning martial arts,” she smiled. “To tear you ear from ear.”
“But without my ears,” grinned Fox, “I cannot hear you, darling thing!
And besides … I know you love that I adore to hear you sing.”
“Don’t push it,” Snowbird snapped, “Or I will clear your gums of teeth,
And use your fur to stitch you up a dainty funeral wreath!
Your organs I will send post-haste to save some hunter’s life,
And your bloodied head I’ll mail to Anne, the taxidermist’s wife!”
“A charming thought,” the Fox replied. “Who doesn’t like real fur?
And to have you at my funeral will make death worthwhile, I’m sure!
To save another life has been this Fox’s lifelong dream,
And another one has been to make Bad Annie scream!”
“What’s that noise?” Fox cried. “Oh, don’t you pull that trick on me!”
“No look!” Fox roared. “There’s someone hiding just behind that tree!”
The Snowbird gasped, behind the tree the Huntsman and his hound,
“Well done, my girl!” the Huntsman growled. “This is a catch you’ve found!”
Augusta barked, the Huntsman aimed, his antique rifle clapped,
And Snowbird screamed as Fox collapsed, his neck – it seems – had snapped,
“That Fox,” the Huntsman cussed, “the darndest thing I’ve seen or heard,
Unless my eyes deceive me, took a bullet for that bird!”
The Snowbird did not waste more time; she knew the thing to do;
And, bowing to the fallen Fox, unleashed her new kung fu!
The Spinning Golden Dragon-Kick, the Shanghai Murder Fist,
Connected with the Huntsman’s head, and never Snowbird missed,
Augusta, yelping, ran away, the Huntsman’s fight was ended,
But the Snowbird kept on kicking him, until he had surrendered!
“To have had you at my funeral, would have made my death worthwhile,
But it’s when I’m still alive that I can most enjoy your smile…”
The Fox thus spoke, alive, but weak, the bullet had been stuck,
Inside a box of chocolates that in his coat was tucked,
“These were for you,” the Foxy sighed, “And yet, no more, it seems,
The Huntsman’s rifle decimated all your Berry Creams…”
“Outside and in a fox I am, and you the fairest bird,
But please, dear Snowbird, don’t suspect my every look and word.”
The Snowbird smiling, sweetly sung, then took his trembling hand,
And ever more dear friends they were, the dearest in the land!
A Lonely Old Crustacean Finds a Friend
(An Aquatic Amore)
A hermit crab saw no connection,
Between himself and his reflection,
And so for days and months on end,
He stood a-waving to his friend
Each night his darling went away,
But with the sun returned each day,
His only friend, amour, and light,
Was simply that: a trick of light
There even rang no mental bells,
When both together left their shells,
Nor when (by chance!) they both made plans,
To dwell inside red baked bean cans
When caught crab’s summer days did stop,
Kept in a bag, sent to a shop,
His pincers quaked, he’d ne’er more see,
His friend of seven months and three
Yet crab faced not, as feared, the tomb,
Instead, a tank in Sarah’s room,
Her mirrored cupboards brought elation,
To that lonely old crustacean!
The hermit crab saw no connection,
Between himself and his reflection,
In Sarah’s room for years on end,
He waved to his beloved friend
The Problem With That Ocelot
(A Recipe For Murder)
The problem with that ocelot,
Was that she always ate a lot,
Grace, charm, and manners had she not,
A glutton was that ocelot
When ocelot took to the town,
The ladies pointed, waiters frowned,
As l’escargot and beans washed down,
With sauces red and gravies brown
From Jacques who was to kitchen born,
She earned a culinary scorn,
And so he baked a Tart of Prawn,
With hemlock glaze and chloroform
As soon as Jacques had served the treat,
With no delay, the beast did eat!
(Despite her hungry canines sweet,
Dessert would now be obsolete…)
The creature screamed and clutched her heart,
And sobbed: “Alas, I now depart!
But, by the gods, who baked that tart?
It was not food, but art!!!”
A Terpsichorean Tale
(Dedicated To Unknown Dancers)
“Are aphids meant to dance?” inquired young Susan of her Dad,
“For on this prickly rosebush here, they’re caught up in this fad,
First they tango to the left, then they Charleston to the right,
Until the hungry caterpillars scamper off in fright!
It’s true I go to school, oh Dad, to learn of rules and sense,
But it seems quite clear this insect dance is done in self-defence!”
“Nonsense!” scoffed her Father, at this tale of insect dance,
Until with his own eyes he saw how well they skipped and pranced
He cried: “Oh Susan, you were right, these bugs inside must stay,
Until a contract can be signed with agents from Broadway!”
Her Father kept the aphids in a box to let them train,
And played The Sound of Music, Fame, and Singin’ In the Rain,
Those aphids mastered every dance; they trained to bitter end;
Kept in the dark with but the sound of Hammerstein and friend,
Their debut night came round at last, but signs were hardly glad,
In neon lights – not insect name – but that of Susan’s Dad
As drums did roll, and spotlights shone, to each patron was passed,
A telescope, binoculars, or magnifying glass,
Yet as the curtain lifted high, the crowd shook angry head,
For the promised dancing insect folk had from the stage just fled,
Avoiding flying fruit and stoves, shamed Father left the stage,
And cursed the named of Webber, in a Broadway hating rage!
Months later playing in the garden, Susan saw by chance,
A leaf aquiver not with breeze, but beat of aphid dance…
Band of Blubbers
(A Martial Missive)
Nine Jellyfish fought in the war,
But washed up on a foreign shore,
Faced execution by their enemies,
But fled disguised as sea anemones!
So if you serve in any wars,
And strand yourself on foreign shores:
Remember those Nine Fighting Jellies,
Who fought for you and all your rellies!
Where Goes the Fire?
(A Pyromaniacal Lullaby)
Where goes the fire when the fire goes out?
To the opera?
To the circus?
Or to have its front teeth out?
The Lady Who Drank From a Shoe & Finally Found Happiness
(A Podiatric Paean)
In Rome there lived a lady who,
Drank tea and coffee from a shoe,
Resolved she was to drink that way,
Her milky-sugar-boot Earl Grey,
A Sergeant warned that he would fine her,
Unless she drank her tea from china:
“In Roman law, we only settle,
For folk who favour cup and kettle!
And yet, my dear, you think it meet,
To fill your shoes with tea, not feet!”
The lady feared a life in gaol,
And so she o’er the ocean sailed,
She came at last to Lands of Sleet,
Ruled by the Kings-Of-But-One-Feet,
(These Unipods they had no care,
For shoes that must be bought in pairs!)
That lady spied the causal link,
Between spare boots, and evening drink,
So now she serves up shoes and tea,
For the Unipod King of the Landly-Lee…
Bess, The Tardy Cephalopod
(An Octopedal Fable)
To rise, I hope, you’d not be late,
If legs you had – not two – but eight,
Yet always late, though eight times shod,
Was Bess the tardy cephalopod
At noon she’d stir her inky head,
And yawning rise from soft sea bed,
Then to the kitchen idly lumber,
To guzzle tea and sea cucumber!
All afternoon, that lazy kraken,
On roe and kelp continued snackin’!
Thus sister Lou, girth also ample,
Was seldom set a good example
Yet truth be told, this rising late,
Was known as quite a family trait,
Sir Samuel Squid, back spawnings four,
Slept in and missed the Lobster War!
His eyes drawn to these sisters large,
A Great-White Shark prepared to charge,
“Lou, pass the cake,” the last remark,
Of Bess inside that hungry shark!
Remember this, or be as bait,
A shark adores a squid up late,
Each morning then, oh children try,
To be not like such octopi…
The Android & The Flowergirl
(With Neither Rhyme)
An android fell in love with Fleur,
She was the Flowergirl,
Outside his castle she sold dandelions.
In his lab he grew a string of pearls,
To give to her,
They were as lovely as her eyes.
Hippolyta the Hippy Hippo
(War is over!)
Hippolyta the Hippy Hippo hula-hooped to stop the war,
The Walrus War helped rich get rich, as other beasts grew poor,
A duck had killed the walrus king, and neither side would yield,
So the Hippy Hippo took to dancing on the battlefield,
As she hula-hooped all were amazed, the guns on both sides ceased,
With hula-hoops – not war – her craze, she forged a lasting peace.
What Is A Poem For?
“What is a poem for?” asked the kitten of the cat,
“Does it matter if the poem rhymes? Or is it more than that?
Are poems simply private songs of unrequited love?
Is a poem for the poet? – Or for every star above?
Are all the poets really dead? Or are there some alive?
Can words be used as kisses? Or are they always knives?
Are poets simply dreamers? Or do they really see?
And tell me, cat, when will a poet write a poem for me?”
The cat she purred, “Oh dearest heart, my sweet beloved kitten,
Whenever you ask questions thus, a poem you have written,
The answers to your questions lie within your words, you see,
And that, dear child, the secret is, of all good poetry…”
The Ant and the Aardvark
(For Great & Small Creatures)
In the City of the Sun there lived an Ant who for a lark,
Took to dancing lessons with a wily old Aardvark,
As they tangoed, cried the Ant: “You know, Aardy, I have found,
With you dancing in the Moonlight quite beats living underground!”
For a Bumblebee
(A Love Story With No Happy End)
A lobster loved a bumblebee,
A love no one could save,
Her house, a hive, up in a tree,
But his beneath a wave
No fairer love had lobster seen,
For her he prayed and wished,
The bumblebee she died as Queen,
But he on baking dish…
(A Lunar Flight)
A year ago this first of June,
A duck flew right up to the moon,
Her ducklings born in outer space,
In nests upon the lunar face!
Soon followed raven, wren, and swallow,
To roost on moon where once Apollo,
Made NASA proud (small step for man),
And now a leap for avian!
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Ate them, choked, and died,
His brother mourned for several days,
Then made off with his bride
Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream,
For if you try to a row a goat,
The goat will surely scream
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye,
I’m told that folk with any sense,
Will live until they die
Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub,
Don’t bother to scream when in space,
If a horse canters into your favourite pub,
Don’t ask him about his long face…
The Wombat & The Emu
(An Ornithological Romance Doesn’t Take Place)
A wombat found an emu, at the back of Wynyard station,
And two weeks later said: “hello!” (the length of thought’s gestation),
Yet the emu is a fast beast, and by now had run to Perth,
So the lonely wombat ambled home, to sleep beneath the earth.
An old man was dressed to the nines,
In a suit sewn from fifteen canines,
Each night at the station,
His hat, an Alsatian,
Would bark at the ladies in line.
(An Ecumenical Paradigm)
I knew a priest who sat a few,
Small ducks in every single pew,
So pious folk in every nation,
Might think he had a congregation,
To me it seemed quite hardly fair,
That he used ducks for Morning Prayer!
The moral? Next time use some geese.
(Featuring Some Traditional Wisdom)
One night an angel fell asleep,
Quite far away from home,
She woke next day upon the street,
Flew off, but dropped her comb,
An old man living on the road,
Of hardships had his share,
Whilst wandering found that angel comb,
And placed it in his hair,
At once the old man leaped up high,
He cheered as his clothes changed,
From dirty rags to raiment bright,
On head a crown arranged,
The world around him shifted too,
All grimness turned to gold,
Not folk who stared, but subjects bowed,
This King now did behold,
His sack of junk had turned to coins,
A park to Royal City,
Its doors were opened not to rich,
But folk who needed pity,
Yet jewels and gems they took their toll,
This vagrant was quite changed,
Soon ‘twixt the King and Bombay’s Queen,
A marriage was arranged,
On wedding’s eve, Queen Ulma cried,
Moaned, whined, and raised a shout,
At her behest the King gave in,
And threw the street-folk out,
Again abandoned, on their way,
The sick, aged, and infirm,
Knew well the fate that faced the King,
The lesson he would learn,
On wedding day great trumpets blew,
Glad hymns were sung with might,
When in the sky a star appeared,
As bright as any light,
Convinced this light meant fireworks,
A gift from foreign kings,
The Queen ignored it as it grew,
And kissed her diamond rings,
The King however knew full well,
The light was more than show,
No less the owner of the comb,
That made this pious glow,
Ashamed that he had changed so much,
The King removed the comb,
And ‘fore the gasping dumb-struck crowd,
His palace turned to foam,
As angry courtiers ran about,
The rich were in despair,
And howling in a foamy pile,
The Queen tore out her hair,
But fixed in place the old man stood,
His eyes trained on the sky,
Although the angel never came,
A comet soon flew by,
A lesser man would surely cry,
At what did just unfold,
But this old man he simply smiled,
Alone, as it grew cold,
When sunrise came, he still stood there,
As true old friends came back,
And together laughing they returned,
To life upon the track,
Although the angel never came,
To claim her comb that night,
In later years the old man claimed,
“True magic hides from sight…”
A moral true I could unfold,
Of greater things than wealth,
But lessons best are mostly learned,
Through time, and love … and stealth!
Fantastic Was Her Light
A tiny mouse was crying, standing on the burning sand,
For Pete had lost the comfort of his mother’s hand,
The joy he’d known when swimming, or building on the beach,
Now made his sorrow all the more, with mother out of reach
An hour ago Pete ran from her, to watch a clown perform,
(The posters claimed that Juggling Jane was to the circus born!)
But when Jane’s tricks were over, Pete he wept (the sorry fella’),
To see the beach all red with twenty thousand like umbrellas
Pete shook and sobbed and stomped, as many mice just passed on by,
(It seemed so strange, on such a summer’s day, to see him cry),
By now the rodent crowd had swelled to ten times ten times ten,
As Ta Da! the favourite walked on stage: The Amazing Dancing Jen!!!
So bright a star was Dancing Jen (the world’s most famous mouse),
That known and loved she was by mice in town and country house,
Her fusion style thrilled critics, and her grace and skill were rare,
She was the only mouse known to have danced with Fred Astaire!
The crowd it whooped and screamed to see the rodent Mata Hari,
But gasped as Jen she stopped mid-dance (her face all seized with worry),
Their shock soon turned to anger; the Mouse ran off the stage;
(Cat Paul, the show’s director, swore he’d drown her in a cage),
But Jen, she reappeared quite soon, and walked among the crowd,
Her fans realised they loved her still, and cheered her extra loud,
As children swirled around her, parents begged for autographs,
But Jen approached the one soul there, who had no smiles or laughs
Jen greeted Pete with hugs and smiles, and introduced herself,
As a friend and fellow Mouse (not some celebrity with wealth),
That day for kisses from their idol, fans could not compete,
Jen’s heart was won not by applause, but tears from little Pete
Pete’s hand in hers, they climbed on stage, the music played again,
And the crowd exclaimed: “Fantastic!” as he tripped the light with Jen,
They box-stepped, tangoed, hula-hooped, and turned a do-si-do,
(Although Paul was surprised at first, it proved a dazzling show)
Like all good things their show did end, to cheers each mouse did bow,
Then took some time to chat with fans (young Pete was famous now),
Pete signed his name so many times his hand grew rather numb,
But for his greatest fan he signed: “I love you most, dear mum!”
The Butcher and the Singing Chin
In Wersey Park there lived a man, inside a garbage bin,
He was a music lover with the most distinguished chin,
This chin, a beardy crescent, through which you may have heard,
The sound of opera favourites from a nest of singing birds,
A butcher strolling through the park, in hand a piggied knife,
Had seldom heard Puccini sung so well in all his life,
This greedy brute, more beast than man, was taken by a vision,
Of wealth beyond his wildest dreams (he needed one incision),
From bin he lured the man to doom with sausages and ham,
And only as the knife fell did he comprehend the scam,
The old man screamed, the chin fell off, with glee the butcher cried,
The chin sung Madame Butterfly; the old man slowly died,
That killer led the chin to fame; to glory they did shoot,
The chin performed at Albert Hall in Mozart’s Magic Flute!
But as the lights they dimmed each night, this taunt came from the chin:
O, cruel and hated butcher, you will suffer for your sin…
Despite this threat the butcher cheered when in the mail he saw,
An invitation from the Queen to sing at royal Windsor,
The scoundrel bowed before the Queen, he placed the chin on stage,
But the chin sung not of lovers, but that killer’s cruel outrage:
“In Wersey Park once lived a man, inside a garbage bin,
He was a music lover with the most distinguished chin,
This chin, a beardy crescent, through which you would have heard,
The sound of opera favourites from a nest of singing birds…”
As sung the chin its final verse, Queen Beth shed regal tears,
For such a tale of woe she’d never heard in all her years,
His number up, the butcher fled, that villain all in shock,
The chin was made Queen’s favourite … but he sent to the block.
Who Would Have Thought?
(A Philosophical Quagmire)
Isn’t it funny how bees make honey,
Yet zebras seldom do?
And circus clowns draw laughs and cheers,
Yet funny vets are few?
“I vant to suck your blood,” said the Vampire to the priest,
Whose car had broken down outside his castle,
But the priest he laughed and said: “You don’t frighten me the least,
I have garlic bread wrapped up inside this parcel!”
Upon a summer dream she took to wing, a dragonfly,
And dipped about the meadow where the happy lovers lie,
Upon her hand she landed, there her fingers lightly kissed,
Then took to wing for other dreams and lovers she had missed.
The Spurious Cat
Augustulus Mio, the spurious cat, toyed with a cotton wool ball,
Yet the length of her beak, and the webs of her feet, were not very feline at all,
Still she dutifully purred, as the fire gently burned, and she sat on old Mrs. Hobbs’ lap,
But when the clock chimed at the hour of nine, and her mistress slipped into a nap,
Augustulus hopped down the stairs, ran the bath, and strapped on a red bathing hat,
And paddling in water with three rubber ducks, “Quack! Quack!” went the spurious cat,
Augustulus Mio, for Iris went meow, and toyed with a cottonwool ball,
Yet the length of her beak, and the webs of her feet, were not very feline at all…
(An Arctic Article)
A Bengal tiger in the street,
Shivered in the Arctic sleet,
Its owner moaned and cried and wept:
“If only a polar bear I’d kept!”
Millipede or Centipede?
(An Entomological Dilemma)
A Centipede at brunch one day,
Put down her toast and stood to say:
“You must concede,
When shoes you need,
You’d rather be a centipede!”
But Millipede leapt up and said:
“What foolish talk! You’re off your head!
When fleeing predatory birds,
One hundred shoes are quite absurd!
A thousand feet will run much faster,
Divide by ten and court disaster!”
The Centipede let out a cry,
Threw toast, and egg, and custard pie,
The Millipede tripped on her dress,
And hit the floor with all the mess
Mayor Roach took Centipede aside,
And bitterly he whipped her hide,
“The Law,” he warned, “is seldom sweet,
Concerning quarrels of the feet.”
The conflict never was resolved,
Of feet, and shoes, and birds most bold,
So to this day the feud goes on,
One hundred feet, or else a tonne?
The question this, would you first be
A milli or a centipede?
(A Midnight Melody)
As Night falls gently on the town, the lanterns all go out,
And tired old Sun he snores, as Mrs. Moon shines light about,
The children tucked in bed asleep; the mothers kneel to pray,
As Fay Folk, one by one, emerge to toil the night away,
In dervish dance, the Fairy Queen, from sky to mortal ground,
Leads dryads, naiads, sprites and nymphs, as pipes the insect sound,
Soon others who by day had slept in tree-stump, swamp, or ceiling,
From slumber rise to play whilst Night’s celestial bells are peeling,
As rose-cheeked Seraphs on the wing build dreams from smoke and clay,
Around the stables Centaurs feast on bread and wine and hay,
The work-elves nimbly mend worn boots in Uncle Percy’s house,
Whilst Goblin King exchanges jokes with Owl and Rat and Mouse,
That rustling in the trees makes Ruth too scared to even peek,
From not the wind, as Father says, but Imps at hide-and-seek,
And oh! the grim-faced Ghouls who whisper spells in children’s ears,
Their thoughts now dwell on darkling nightmares and old fears,
Those tweets and clucks upon the roof are not the cries of birds,
But the screeching of young dragons as they learn to hunt in herds,
And that howling from next-door from not such dogs as you can shoo,
But the blood-soaked maws of Gallic beasts, the ancient loup-garou,
At Strike of Twelve do hark the cry of babes on mothers’ knees,
To swell in bitter symphony the wail-song of banshees,
As nitter-natter from downstairs hails from a lonely ghost,
Who in the kitchen feeds his face with handfuls of burnt toast,
Yet soon enough the Moon herself begins to yawn and say:
“It’s time, my friends, to welcome sleep and heed the call of day!”
The King and Queen stand hand-in-hand; call subjects to their side;
And praising them for works achieved, they mount their winged-horse ride!
As Sunrise looms the Royal Pair return to spheres above,
Their denizens descend to sleep (for day they have no love),
In toil and play, the Fay Folk shape our world at Night for Day,
You wake and find you’ve lost your glasses, friends, or place to stay,
You blame yourself, and not an elf, for strange sights you have seen,
Yet now I know we mortals live at the whim of the Fairy Queen!
For human eyes these things are not, say prayers and go to bed,
If you do peek, they’ll come, and into Darkness you’ll be led!